UN discovers 17 new mass graves in central Congo

  •  As Former Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez is found dead in jail cell

UN investigators on Wednesday discovered 17 new mass grave sites in central Democratic Republic of Congo, bringing the total to 40 documented in an area where the army has clashed with a local militia.

A statement from the UN said on Wednesday that the grave sites were reportedly dug by Congolese soldiers after fighting with the Kamuina Nsapu militia in Kasai Central province in March.

The UN said no fewer than least 74 people, including 30 children, were reported to have been killed by soldiers as a result of these clashes.

A government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The government has previously denied that soldiers have used disproportionate force against militia members and said the militia had dug the graves.

The Kamuina Nsapu uprising has become the most serious threat to President Joseph Kabila, whose decision to stay in power after his mandate ran out in December stoked lawlessness in the vast central African nation.

No fewer than 400 people have been killed in fighting in Kasai Central since last August, when Congolese forces killed the tribal militia’s leader Kamuina Nsapu, escalating the conflict.

NAN reports that on April 4, the UN found 13 mass graves in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s central Kasai province since the beginning of March.

This brings the number discovered since August 2016 to 23.

The UN has been unable to examine the mass graves and cannot say if they were recently dug.

Late in March two UN experts who were abducted after going to investigate reports of abuses in the region were found dead in shallow graves.

In the meantime, former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez was found dead this morning after hanging himself in his prison cell where he was serving a life sentence for murder, according to the Massachusetts Department of Correction.

Correction officers discovered Hernandez in his cell at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts. The former tight end was in a “single cell in a general population housing,” the department said in a statement.

Correction officers attempted “lifesaving techniques” on Hernandez. He was subsequently transported to UMASS Leominster where he was pronounced dead at 4:07 a.m. ET by a physician at the hospital.

“Mr. Hernandez hanged himself utilizing a bed sheet that he attached to his cell window,” according to the statement. “Mr. Hernandez also attempted to block his door from the inside by jamming the door with various items.”

Hernandez’s next of kin have been notified.

The Massachusetts State Police are on scene and the investigation is ongoing.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Correction told ABC News there was no prior concern Hernandez was suicidal, otherwise he would have been on mental health watch in a different part of the prison. It’s unknown at this time whether he left a suicide note, the spokesman said.

The death of the former NFL star comes less than a week after he was acquitted in a 2012 double slaying. Hernandez, 27, was already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after being convicted in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s longtime fiancee.

Hernandez and his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, have a 4-year-old daughter.

The New England Patriots, the Super Bowl LI champions, are scheduled to visit the White House this afternoon to meet with President Donald Trump. A Patriots spokesman told ABC News the team is aware of the reports of Hernandez’s death but declined to provide further comment at this time.

NAN with additional report from Abc