At least five dead in western Congo clashes

Kinshasa, DRC - Weekend clashes between police and members of an anti-government religious sect killed at least five people and injured a dozen more in Congo's westernmost Bas-Congo province, officials said on Monday.

Violence erupted in the town of Vanga, 200 km (130 miles) west of the capital Kinshasa, on Saturday as police attempted to rescue an officer seized by militants from the ethnic-based political and religious movement, Bundu dia Kongo (BDK).

"The police went to free him and they found themselves in front of a barricade," local territorial administrator Ferdinand Ntshikana told Reuters.

"More and more Bundu dia Kongo followers arrived throwing stones...They decided to dismantle the barricade by driving through it." Four BDK supporters were crushed under a police vehicle, and an agent with Congo's national intelligence agency was also killed. Ntshikana said the initial toll of dead and wounded could still climb.

The incident comes almost a year after 105 people died in a bloody government crackdown on BDK supporters protesting alleged fraud in provincial governor polls.

A U.N. human rights report later accused Congolese authorities of using "excessive and indiscriminate lethal force" during two days of clashes in which 105 people were killed.

Nemuanda Nsemi, head of BDK, said Saturday's clash followed a week of harassment by security forces during which he alleged police arrested and tortured several of the movement's members.

The police officer was taken hostage to help negotiate the release of BDK militants held by the security forces, he said.

"This was all premeditated. They just created a pretext to massacre people," he said.

A parliamentary investigation into last year's crackdown on BDK concluded security forces had acted against "an illegal group" which attacked them and committed murder, arson, looting and rape. Opposition lawmakers and human rights campaigners dismissed the report as a whitewash.