DRC police storm rebel sect

Kinshasa, DRC - Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday stormed the headquarters of a politico-religious movement, Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), killing between four and six people, officials said.

"We mounted an operation to remove BDK followers from their headquarters. The operation is now complete; it was a success," a police officer in Matadi, capital of Bas-Congo province, told AFP.

No official toll was given, but local and diplomatic officials who requested anonymity said four to six had died, with several people wounded as well.

Gunfire was heard around lunchtime in the Belvedere district of Matadi where the group’s headquarters were located, causing panic among locals before calm was restored by late afternoon.

Bas-Congo police chief General Raus Chalwe confirmed the assault was ordered by his superiors in Kinshasa, but could not give a toll.

Matadi’s mayor Jean-Marc Nzeyidio told AFP the police were in control of the partially-destroyed premises, while complaining that he had not been given advance notice of the operation.

He said the site was made up of an enclosure with straw huts and a brick maisonette where BDK figures gathered. "I don’t know if there are victims," he added.

Clashes between police and BDK members in the country’s southwest had already claimed at least 25 lives in the past 10 days, according to local officials, with over 100 deaths recorded in January 2007 violence.

An accurate toll might be "about 100 dead", United Nations sources who asked not to be named told AFP last Wednesday, adding that the UN mission in the DR Congo had yet to verify accounts.

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.

The BDK 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.

The BDK is accused by the government of systematically undermining the state’s authority by attacking police officers or burning flags, and forbidding the singing of the national anthem in schools.

Its spiritual leader, lawmaker Ne Muanda Nsemi, has accused the government of bombing civilians and called for talks on the region’s governance.

He has alleged electoral fraud as well as unfair distribution of natural resources in Bas-Congo, the only oil-producing part of the country.