By Aaron Ross
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's government is investigating a video that appears to show Congolese troops shooting dead a group of apparent militia members armed with slingshots and wooden batons, the human rights minister said.
Later on Saturday, however, the communications minister dismissed the footage as a "montage" put together by opposition figures living in Belgium, Congo's former colonial power.
The seven-minute video, which was shared widely on social media and seen by Reuters, shows men in Congolese army uniforms saying they are participating in an operation against the Kamwina Nsapu militia.
It was not possible to confirm the video's authenticity independently or establish when it was recorded.
Congolese forces have been battling an uprising by the militia in the central Kasai province which erupted when they killed its leader, Kamwina Nsapu, in August.
The United Nations said this week it had received reports that the army had killed at least 101 people in clashes in the region between Feb. 9 and Feb. 13, including 39 women.
Congolese Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa said a probe had been launched into the video.
"Since we received the video, the ministries of human rights, interior, justice and defense have been working on it ... to try to authenticate these images," she told Reuters.
"As soon as possible, we will be able to say what it's all about," she added.
In a later statement, Communications Minister Lambert Mende said the video contained footage from Dec. 21 showing fighting between the army and the militia in which, he said, 13 militia members, including two women, were killed.
But he said the footage was "in all likelihood a montage produced after these clashes", put together by opponents of the government in Belgium.
SLINGSHOTS, WOODEN BATONS
The video is filmed from slightly behind the roughly dozen men wearing Congolese military uniforms and shows them advancing on foot toward a group of men and women on a dirt road.
They open fire for 45 seconds then advance closer to inspect the more than 10 dead and wounded, including at least two women.
"This one here isn't dead," one of men says in the western Congolese Lingala language, referring to a bloodied young man lying in the grass. Another uniformed man then shoots him in the head.
Several of the men who have been shot have slingshots and wooden batons. None appears to have been carrying a gun.
The army's spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Militia violence in Congo, a tinder box of conflicts over land, ethnicity and minerals, has been worsened by President Joseph Kabila's failure to step down when his mandate expired in December, and analysts say it risks spinning out of control.
On Thursday an ethnic Nande "Mai Mai" militia in the eastern Congolese village of Kyaghala killed at least 19 mostly ethnic Hutu civilians, a local activist group monitoring the area said on Saturday, the latest bout of ethnic violence that has killed scores of people since late last year.
(Editing by Tim Cocks and Helen Popper)