Kinshasa (AFP) - Democratic Republic of Congo authorities on Tuesday said that a mass grave discovered in the capital Kinshasa contained mainly stillborn babies and foetuses, in a bid to quash rumours that the bodies of opposition supporters were buried there.
"The bodies of 421 people were buried on March 19 in the capital's Maluku district, Kinshasa's interim governor Luzolanu Mavema told reporters.
Among these were "around 300 stillborn babies and foetuses abandoned in streams, rivers and even hospitals," he added.
As for the rest there were 23 abandoned bodies, those of 34 drifters and 64 unidentified corpses, he added.
Mavema added that a number of the bodies had been handed over by the Red Cross, stressing that the government has "absolutely nothing to hide".
The governor said his focus was to deny rumours that the common grave could hold the bodies of government opponents who were killed during protests and mass arrests in January.
The protesters had denounced moves they claimed were designed to delay presidential elections and allow President Joseph Kabila to remain in power in defiance of the constitution. Up to 42 people died during the violent protests.
According to an official document seen by AFP, a judicial enquiry into the mass grave has been opened at the request of the United Nations Joint Office for Human Rights (BCNUDH) in the country.
The Human Rights Watch organisation said it hoped the inquiry would be "rigorous, independent and credible".
Residents living near a cemetery in Maluku were alerted to the mass grave by the freshly dug earth and a terrible stench in the air.
The area has since been sealed off and it is difficult to find witnesses prepared to talk about what was found in the mass grave.
One elderly trader to AFP that he had seen a large truck arrive at the site "very early in the morning".
According to Mavema such "collective burials" were common practice.
Last year three common graves were dug in another Kinshasa cemetery. The biggest of those held 343 bodies, most of which were also said to be the remains of stillborn babies and foetuses, he said.
Interior Minister Evariste Boshab has met human rights activists on the matter and has been called to explain the situation to the National Assembly at a date yet to be agreed.