DR Congo religious clashes leave 22 dead

Kinshasa, Congo - Twenty-two people were killed in clashes last week between police and members of a religious sect in Bas-Congo province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, local authorities said Tuesday.

Staff in the governor's office in the southwestern province told AFP that 21 members of the locally powerful Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) movement and a woman were killed in the violence at Luozi.

Calm has since been restored in Luozi, more than 150 kilometres (95 miles) southwest of Kinshasa, but on Monday BDK members clashed with police and ransacked the homes of state employees in another region, Seke-Banza.

Town authorities in Seke-Banza, 100 kilometres from Luozi, gave no casualty figures or details, but residents said tension remained high on Tuesday.

Bundu dia Kongo means the "Kingdom of the Kongo" in the Kikongo language and sect members, known as the Makessa, are hostile to the police as symbols of the vast central African state's authority.

Their spiritual leader, Muanda Nsemi, is an elected member of the parliament in Kinshasa, who on Saturday denounced what he called a plot to destabilise his movement and condemned the use of violence to re-establish order.

The BDK, strong in several towns of the province, has the political aim of secession to restore an African monarchy that included what is today Bas-Congo, with parts of neighbouring Angola, the Republic of Congo and Gabon.

Police were patrolling the towns in strength Tuesday, residents and officials said.

Friday's violence in Luozi began after President Joseph Kabila's government sent police reinforcements to the area from Kinshasa.

A week earlier, three people were burned alive by suspected members of the BDK. Community leaders and local authorities have for months accused the Makessa of acts of intolerance.

When confronted by the sect, the police from Kinshasa initally used tear gas and fired warning shots in the air, but then aimed directly at their attackers to disperse them.

In January 2007, clashes between the BDK and police claimed more than 100 lives in the province.

The UN mission in the DRC on Monday announced a reinforcement of its troop and police presence in Bas-Congo, saying that giving "help to protect civilian populations remains at the heart" of its mandate in the central African nation.