October 22, 2019 / 2:05 PM / a month ago

Congo spy informant dies while on trial for U.N. experts' killing

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - An informant for Congo’s intelligence agency who was on trial for alleged involvement in the murders of two U.N. investigators has died from a long-term illness, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Zaida Catalan, a Swede, and Michael Sharp, an American, were killed in March 2017 while investigating an armed conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region between government forces and the Kamuina Nsapu militia.

Jose Tshibuabua was charged with murder after Reuters and Radio France Internationale (RFI) revealed in December 2017 that he had been working as an intelligence service informant at the same time he and several family with ties to the militia met the investigators to help them plan their fatal trip the next day.

Tshibuabua, who had missed several court hearings because of his poor health, died in hospital on Monday from complications related to AIDS, his lawyer, Trésor Kabangu, told Reuters.

“His death is not a surprise to the court, which made sure it heard him and asked all necessary questions before his health deteriorated,” said Timothée Mukuntu, the top military prosecutor in Congo.

Tshibuabua, 55, had denied involvement in the killing of the two sanctions monitors, who had been investigating a conflict in which the U.N. and human rights groups accused Congolese forces of committing atrocities.

But the trial, which now involves more than two dozen defendants, has dragged on for over two years and many questions remain unanswered, including what role other state agents may have played.

Another defendant in the trial died in prison last year and one other escaped from jail in May and has not been recaptured.

Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross/Mark Heinrich

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