March 12 (UPI) -- More than 500 civilians were killed and 111 injured in the Yumbi territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo in December, a special mission by the U.N Joint Human Rights Office found.
The violence committed there, including the decapitation of a toddler and the burning of people alive in their homes, could be considered crimes against humanity, the office said.
The U.N. investigators searched three villages and nearly 1,000 buildings, including houses, churches and hospitals. Many buildings were looted or even destroyed, the U.N. office said. The death toll may higher, the office said, because investigators were not allowed in the Camp Nbanzi village and bodies may have been dumped in the Congo River
Some reports have placed the death toll at 900 people. An estimated 19,000 people were displaced by the violence, which was triggered by a dispute over the burial of a Banunu chief. Batende villagers attacked people in the streets and in their homes, leaving no time for them to escape.
The violence could flare up again because there's a lack of a state authority, the U.N. office said.
"Tensions and resentment between the two communities, combined with rumors of reprisals, could give rise to new waves of violence at any time," a report by the U.N. states.
The special representative of the U.N. secretary-general in the DRC, Leila Zerrougui, called for urgent measures to restore state authority in Yumbi territory so the displaced populations can return. The existing authorities in the province "appear to have failed in their responsibility to protect the population."
"The neutral presence of state institutions, including the police, is important to maintain law and order and to prevent the risk of further violence," Zerrougui said.