LUSAKA, Zambia — Congolese President Laurent Kabila told reporters here Tuesday that a United Nations team investigating alleged massacres in the former Zaire should leave the country.
"We request [U.N. Secretary-General] Kofi Annan to ask them to leave," Kabila said at Lusaka airport as he boarded a plane for home.
U.N. officials in New York said they learned of Kabila's comments from a news report and were seeking confirmation. However, Mary Robinson, the newly named U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said that if the report is true, it will make the investigative team's position "untenable."
The 23-member group has been in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, for nearly six weeks, negotiating with officials of Kabila's government for access to areas of the country where the massacres allegedly occurred. The government has thrown up repeated obstacles to the investigation.
Ironically, Kabila on Tuesday accused the investigators of "just issuing statements from posh hotels in Kinshasa. They have failed to go to these areas to prove that the massacres took place."
Withdrawal of the team from Kinshasa would be a setback for U.S. diplomacy. Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, negotiated an arrangement with Kabila in June permitting entry of the investigators. But Kabila has failed to adhere to the agreement. The United States and the European Union are withholding millions of dollars in aid to the Congo pending assurances from the U.N. that the investigation is proceeding.
The team was set up to investigate allegations by relief workers and other witnesses that Kabila's forces or his Rwandan Tutsi allies massacred Rwandan Hutu refugees during the seven-month campaign that brought him to power in May.
Robinson told a news conference in New York that even if the investigators are forced to leave Congo, the probe will continue from outside the Central African nation's borders.
Kabila ended a three-day visit to Zambia ahead of schedule Tuesday afternoon, as a second day of shelling from the Republic of Congo capital of Brazzaville killed three children in Kinshasa, across the Congo River.
Monday's shelling killed 17 people.
The violence between supporters of the Republic of Congo President Pascal Lissouba and his predecessor, Gen. Denis Sassou-Nguesso, began June 5.
Reports said it was not clear who was firing the shells that landed in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo.