The Twa from the northeastern district of Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Orientale Province, retracted on Monday statements they made in 2003 of having witnessed acts of cannibalism against their people by a former rebel group, the MLC.
"That was a lie because we were pushed into saying things," Amzati Ndjeto, said in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.
Ndjeto was among a group of Twa people, commonly known as pygmies, who in January 2003 claimed in Kinshasa that their families had been killed and eaten in the area of Mambasa by soldiers of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo, the MLC, headed by Jean-Pierre Bemba.
"All those people whom we had said had been eaten are still alive," Ndjeto said. "We have never taken part in cannibalism, but a government delegation at the time had asked us to lie so as to soil the name of Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba and his movement," he said.
Ndjeto was speaking at a news conference called by the MLC to give its version of events that supposedly occurred from October to December 2002. He and his colleague refused to give the full identity of the government officials they claimed told them to lie but they said they had made contact with a man named Dr Jackson.
When the claim of cannibalism was made, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and human rights organisations later confirmed the acts, basing these on statements made by so called witnesses. However, faced with Monday's denial by the very people who had originally made the claim MONUC's chief of information, Patricia Tome, said, "There is no comment to be made on this matter. We are waiting to be informed and to examine the situation."
The International Criminal Court in The Hague is investigating the charges of cannibalism but, as a matter of policy, would not comment.
"The investigations are confidential. There is nothing we can say on the situation," Sonia Robla, the court's chief of information, said on Monday from The Hague.
However, local human rights organisations have been embarrassed by Ndjeto's denial, saying also that he could have been "manipulated" into making his latest statement, just as he claims was the case in the first instance.
"If we can uphold the criticism of manipulation by the former government, the same can be said for those who have presented these pygmies today. What counts is for all concerned to bring their proof before the International Criminal Court," Henri Mova Sakanyi, the minister of information and government spokesman, said in Kinshasa.
On the Net:
DRC: Pygmies demand a tribunal for crimes against them in Ituri
DRC: 8,000 Mayi-Mayi accused of cannibalism, disarmed in southern Katanga
DRC: UN forum hears allegations of cannibalism against pygmies
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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