Two men part of a group arrested by South African police for plotting to overthrow the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are still at large, police said today.
“Indications are they might still be in the country; law enforcement authorities are searching for them,” said police spokesman Brigadier Lindela Mashigo.
The two men are General William Amuri Yakutumbu and Etienne Kabila – the latter is allegedly the half-brother of DRC President Joseph Kabila. They are the alleged ringleaders of the group that was captured by police earlier this week.
On Tuesday the South African Police Service (SAPS) said it had arrested 19 suspected Congolese rebels, including two senior members of the M23 group. Yesterday the 19 were charged with plotting a coup against the government in Kinshasa which they planned to finance, if successful, through mineral concessions.
The group, who appeared in court in Pretoria, were led by U.S.-Congolese citizen James Kazongo and had been under surveillance by an elite South African police unit for months before their arrest this week, prosecutor Shaun Abrahams said.
Abrahams said police received information in September that the group, a wing of a little-known rebel militia called the Union of Nationalists for Renewal (UNR), were planning a coup in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“To enable them to achieve this, they required large quantities of arms and ammunition and specialised military training,” Abrahams told the court. “They did not have access to finances but would pay with mining concessions in the DRC.”
He said police had a “wish list” emailed to an undercover officer asking for 50 satellite phones, 200 Motorola radios, $120 000 in cash, 5 000 AK-47 assault rifles, 100 PKM machineguns, 230 other machineguns, 100 revolvers, 1 000 grenades and 40 missiles.
In February, Abrahams said the undercover policeman met Kazongo, who said he was trying to recruit mercenaries, and confirmed the “wish list” as well as his intention to overthrow the DRC government.
In an elaborate sting, police then told the rebels they would be housed on a farm in the northern province of Limpopo under the guise of an anti-rhino-poaching training camp.
The men would pose as trainee game rangers, justification for them carrying weapons and sophisticated gadgets, Abrahams said.
The 19 were not asked to plead and the case was postponed to February 14 in order for them to obtain legal representation.
According to court documents, the UNR consists of 9 000 rebels opposed to the rule of President Joseph Kabila and want him removed by “unconstitutional” means.
There is some uncertainty as to how the UNR group entered South Africa and it is suspected that they may have bribed home affairs officials for fraudulent permits.