Congolese security forces killed at least 14 members of separatist sect Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) during clashes in Kinshasa and Matadi in which at least one police officer also died, police said.
The clashes followed an attack by BDK members on Kinshasa’s main prison and demonstrations by other members against Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, Matadi and the south-western city of Boma, witnesses and security sources said.
A series of large-scale prison breaks across Congo in the past few months has aggravated insecurity since Kabila refused to step down after his mandate expired in December.
Assailants wearing red headbands characteristic of BDK members staged the attack on the high-security Makala prison but did not make it past the front door, said a witness inside the prison.
“We woke up to the noise of gunshots,” said the witness, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. He said he saw police and soldiers collect several bodies outside the prison walls.
BDK leader and self-styled prophet Ne Muanda Nsemi escaped from prison in May and had called on supporters to rise up this Monday against Kabila, whom Nsemi accuses of being Rwandan – a common slur by the president’s opponents.
The group aims to revive the pre-colonial Kongo kingdom, which thrived for centuries around the mouth of the Congo River.
BDK demonstrators on Monday held signs that read, “Rwanda for Rwandans. Congo for Congolese. Get out, Kanambe,” using another slur to refer to Kabila.
Police spokesman Pierrot Mwanamputu said in a statement 12 BDK assailants in Kinshasa, armed with calibre-12 rifles and bladed weapons, were killed by “stray bullets” fired by security forces to disperse them. The attackers killed one policeman.
Two others were killed in Matadi, where three police officers were also injured, he added.
A security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters two army officers were killed in Kinshasa.
Kinshasa police commissioner General Sylvano Kasongo told Reuters no one escaped from the prison and the situation was under control.
Around 4,000 prisoners, including Nsemi, escaped from Makala in May during an attack by suspected BDK members.
Mounting unrest has led some Kabila allies to call for a state of emergency. More than 50 people were killed on Friday in the south-east in inter-ethnic clashes, part of rising militia violence across the country.