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Congo militia storms prison, frees self-styled prophet leader

Gunmen tied to a Christian sect have attacked a DRC prison, freeing their guru and dozens of prisoners. Some reports suggest hundreds or thousands of prisoners may have fled.

Armed militia members belonging to a religious-political sect attacked a prison in the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday, freeing their self-styled prophet leader and at least 50 other inmates, the government said.  

Ne Muanda Nsemi, the spiritual leader of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) movement, was arrested in March after his supporters got into a series of deadly clashes with police and he called for the overthrow of President Joseph Kabila.

The pre-dawn raid on Kinshasa's Makala prison left one police officer and five attackers dead, government spokesman Lambert Mende said. There were unconfirmed reports that several prisoners also died.

BDK seeks to restore a pre-colonial kingdom in the western part of the country, as well as parts of Angola and Gabon. 

Many more prisoners may have escaped

The Belgian colonial-era Makala prison has capacity for 3,000 detainees. Official sources put the number of prisoners at 8,000.

Inmates include murder and rape convicts, as well as opposition figures, war criminals convicted by the International Criminal Court and soldiers convicted in the assassination of President Joseph Kabila father, former President Laurent Kabila.

A prisoner told Reuters that up to half the prison population had escaped.  A former prisoner who spoke to guards and other prisoners also told Reuters that about half the prisoners had escaped.

However, an escaped prisoner told AFP news agency around 100 inmates fled.  A city official told AFP that the women's section was empty, without mentioning how many inmates were detained there.

Security operations to captured escaped convicts are ongoing.

Nsemi's escape raises the prospect of further violence in the Congo after Kabila postponed elections in November, sparking widespread protests. Kabila should have stepped down in December under a constitutionally mandated two-term limit.

Elections are now scheduled to take place at the end of this year. The opposition questions whether Kabila will yield power. 

cw/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

 

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