UN warns DRCongo on 'excessive force' against religious sect

Kinshasa, DRC - The head of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) warned Wednesday against an escalation of the ongoing violent clashes between police and followers of a religious sect.

Alan Doss, the head of the MONUC mission, cautioned against an "excessive use of force" by the government, which is trying to re-establish its authority in the western Bas-Congo region where the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) movement is active.

Bloody clashes between the police and followers of the BDK political-religious cult have left 27 dead since the end of February, according to a government death toll.

UN sources and charities put the figure at possibly over 100.

On March 8 police stormed the headquarters of the BDK in Matadi, the regional capital, leaving at least two people, including a child, dead, according to the mayor of the town.

"The Security Council has always insisted on the right to maintain the authority of the state and the territorial integrity of DRC. However, we would like to draw the attention of the authorities to the need to avoid the excessive use of force that could aggravate the situation," Doss said at a press conference.

Doss said MONUC had deployed additional units on the ground and was monitoring the situation very closely.

He also called on BDK leaders to "stop spreading xenophobic propaganda and refrain from all violence," warning that MONUC would investigate all complaints of human rights abuses.

The BDK is a secessionist religious opposition group firmly entrenched in Bas-Congo. It campaigns for the restoration of the former kingdom of Kongo, which comprised Bas-Congo, parts of neighbouring Angola and Gabon.

Its followers are accused by the state of attacks on state employees and not recognising Kinshasa's authority.

The BDK's spiritual leader, Ne Muanda Nsemi, claims the police have attacked civilians and has called for round-table talks on the situation in the province.

The region is DRC's sole oil-producing area.