KINSHASA - Democratic Republic of Congo said Wednesday that "as a precautionary measure" it was investigating a video purportedly showing government troops massacring civilians prompted outrage.
The seven minutes of footage that emerged over the weekend shows a group of uniformed men opening fire, then walking among at least 20 bodies, apparently in the violence-wracked central Kasai region.
Past calls to probe the incident were rejected by the government but a statement issued by Kinshasa signalled a change of tack.
"After the broadcast on social networks of this atrocious video caused gossip in past days... a commission of military judges has been sent to verify the facts," the statement said.
A military source, who asked not to be identified, said orders had been signed for the judges to leave but that they were still in Kinshasa. They "might leave tomorrow", he said.
The government statement said the aim of the probe is to "shed light after the declarations of international opinion about the persistent allegations of serious violations of human rights attributed to elements of the Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces" it added.
The alleged incident occurred during an operation in a village called Mwanza Lomba in Kasai according to the government, which said the commission had already made arrests. Anyone with information about the alleged crimes committed has been urged to come forward.
The United States and France on Monday urged Kinshasa's government to open an inquiry, with a US State Department spokesman condemning the "heinous abuses" seen in the video.
Asked by AFP why the government had changed tack, government spokesman Lambert Mende said "this is not back-pedalling.
"No, the government has appealed for testimony as a precautionary measure... There's a lot of agitation and we're concerned. The head of state is keen for matters to be clarified."
The centre Kasai region has been plagued by violence since mid-August when government forces killed a tribal chief and militia leader, Kamwina Nsapu, who had rebelled against the central government.
At least 200 people have been killed since then, leading the UN mission in the country to pledge at least 100 peacekeepers for the region.
The authenticity of the Kasai video has not been proven. It appears to have been shot with a mobile phone by a member of an eight-man squad of troops who speak Lingala (the army's official language) and Swahili (the language of the eastern DRC).
Two other videos emerged on Monday, supposedly taken in the same region, also purportedly showing abuses by DR Congo forces.
Spokesman Mende said investigators would also look into these videos.
One shows a young woman wearing Kamwina Nsapu insignia asking to be evacuated as she has been injured in the hip, but the soldiers instead insult her and beat her about.
The third video, apparently shot in the Kasai city of Kananga, shows at least eight dead or injured children lying on the ground surrounded by men in uniform -- some of them apparently in Congolese police blue.