Congo’s army says it rescued a Spanish doctor from rebels who had held him for nearly two weeks and reportedly shaved his hair for war fetishes.
“Our special forces have liberated the doctor and he is now safe in army hands. Our commandos are bringing back the Spanish doctor now,” Colonel Leon Kasonga told Reuters, adding he was in good health.
Mario Zarza Manresa was seized on April 1 while travelling down the Congo River on a boat that was overrun by militants, who later attacked the capital of northern Equateur Province leading to two days of fighting that killed dozens.
In eastern Congo, eight Red Cross staff were seized by an armed group last week, the aid agency said yesterday, adding that an outbreak of fighting in the area could put the hostages at greater risk.
During Manresa’s captivity, the rebels shaved all of his body hair in the hope it would give them magic powers in battle, a Congolese government minister had said.
Gunen from Congo’s plethora of rebel and pro-government armed groups often adorn themselves with trinkets or traditional garments before heading into battle in the belief that they will protect them from enemy bullets.
Kasonga said the forces had released Zarza at Nganda-Congo, 50 km from where Enyele insurgents overran the provincial capital Mbandaka during an Easter attack in which 36 people died, according to the government.
Three UN workers died in the attack.
Felix Costales, ambassador of Spain, who flew to Mbandaka to follow the crisis and coordinate with the military, confirmed he had been informed of the news by the head of the army, General Etumba, also in Mbandaka.
“I can’t reach him (Zarza) on satellite phone because they don’t always work when you’re in the forest, but I hope to talk to him later,” Costales told Reuters by telephone, adding he had informed Zarza’s family.
Zarza, a Spanish medic who has spent 25 years in Africa and worked in Equatorial Guinea, was spending a holiday travelling in east Africa.
Pic: DRC troops