Executed U.N. experts — one with Kansas ties — were targeted, report says

Michael Sharp, whose parents live in Hesston, was abducted and killed last March while on a humanitarian mission for the U.N. in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Michael Sharp, whose parents live in Hesston, was abducted and killed last March while on a humanitarian mission for the U.N. in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Courtesty photo

Two United Nations experts — one of whom had Kansas ties — were deliberately misled about the safety of the place where they were executed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a French radio station says.

Michael Sharp, 34, was doing humanitarian work when he and five others were kidnapped in the Kasai Central province of the Congo on March 12.

Radio France International reported that Sharp and Zaida Catalan of Sweden were killed while investigating reports of more than 40 mass graves.

Translators “intentionally misled” them about the security of where they were going, the report states.

Sharp and Catalan were killed the same day they were kidnapped, with the murders captured on video.

The region had been wracked by violent unrest following the killing of a local tribal chief in August 2016.

A report by UN experts describes the killing of Sharp and Catalan as a premeditated setup, according to RFI. Congolese authorities and a UN inquiry concluded the pair was killed by militia members.

Michael Sharp grew up in Indiana, where his parents lived before they moved to south-central Kansas in 2005. He made his home in Albuquerque when not working abroad.

Michael’s parents, John Sharp and Michele Miller Sharp of Hesston, said they were aware of the RFI research and that its publication resembled a double-edged sword.

“It feels like we’re grieving all over again,” John Sharp said. “It’s a whole new layer of grief.”

But the results of the investigation being published means they can talk about details of the circumstances surrounding their son’s death that they had learned privately months ago, Michele Sharp said.

And the public attention on the murders may well increase public pressure on the Congolese government to allow a U.N. investigation into the murders, she said. Several members of the U.N. Security Council last month urged U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to establish an international investigation into the killings.

The Sharps believe that their son and Catalan were targeted — but not by militia. In the moments before Michael and Zaida were killed, they said, one of their captors was on a telephone.

“They were all taking orders,” John Sharp said.

The militia had invited Michael and Zaida to meet with them and had made arrangements, the Sharps said.

“They were doing everything right,” Michele Sharp said of the slain pair. “The militia had no reason to abduct and shoot them. They were waiting for them. What reason would they have to do this?

“They wanted these U.N. experts to hear their side of the story.”

The Sharps are convinced Michael and Zaida were kidnapped and killed by people working for the Congolese government’s military. A U.N. report reviewed by the Security Council last month could not rule out that state security services were involved.

Ultimately, the Sharps want accountability for whomever committed the murders.

“Nothing will bring these two young people back,” Michele Sharp said. “It’s way beyond Michael and Zaida. Those people (responsible) are also, without a doubt, doing atrocities to the Congolese people.”

Accountability “helps the Congolese people that are still alive and suffering,” she said.

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger