DRCongo bans religious sect after violence

Kinshasa, DRC — The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government has effectively banned a religious sect after bloody clashes between its followers and the police left scores dead, authorities said Saturday.

Violence in the western Bas-Congo region where the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) movement is active, has killed 27 people since the end of February, according to a government death toll.

However UN sources and charities put the figure at possibly more than 100 in the wake of a police crackdown which also destroyed the BDK's places of meeting and worship.

"The council of ministers has decided to withdraw" the decision to recognise the BDK as a non-profit organisation as "it is no longer a cultural body," a statement said after a cabinet meeting Friday in the Bas-Congo capital of Maladi.

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 government of attacks on state employees and not recognising Kinshasa's authority.

The BDK's spiritual leader, Ne Muanda Nsemi, a member of the parliament in Kinshasa, claims the police have attacked civilians and has called for talks on the situation in the province.

But Saturday's government statement said local people who had suffered from the BDK's actions had handed over an unspecified number of members of the group to the authorities.

Communications Minister and government spokesman Emile Bongeli said two policemen accused of mistreating civilians during the February crackdown had been given life sentences by a military court while others were awaiting trial.

He said the cabinet meeting, chaired by President Joseph Kabila, had asked Interior Minister Denis Kalumbe to set up training schemes for young unemployed in the province.

The government action to ban the BDK was criticised by an opposition member of parliament for the region, DRC's sole oil-producing area.

Local people identified with the group's frustration, he said, adding, "a religion is never as strong as when it is driven underground."