KINSHASA (Reuters) - Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday arrested Ne Muanda Nsemi, the leader of a separatist religious sect, killing eight of his followers as they raided his home in Kinshasa, the interior minister said.
The arrest of Nsemi, whose Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) group dreams of restoring the Kongo kingdom that thrived for centuries before the colonial era around the mouth of the Congo River, took place after clashes with police on Wednesday in a neighboring province, in which 14 BDK members died.
A self-styled prophet and former member of Parliament, Nsemi has a strong following in western Congo and has been a thorn in the side of successive governments. He was arrested in March 2017 after leading deadly protests against former President Joseph Kabila, only to be broken out of prison by his supporters two months later.
Police announced his arrest on Twitter in an operation on Friday, saying: “Mission accomplished, it’s done.”
A Reuters witness said Nsemi’s followers attempted to protect his house in the plush Ma Campagne neighborhood by throwing palm nuts at police, who fired their weapons as they moved in.
Nsemi is accused of rebellion, security offences and inciting ethnic hatred, Interior Minister Gilbert Kankonde said in a statement.
“This arrest came after the failure of several negotiations to persuade the person concerned to voluntarily surrender,” Kankonde said.
Security forces detained more than 350 of his followers, 35 of whom were injured. Eight police officers were seriously wounded in the operation, he said.
Afterwards some police officers looted the property, Kinshasa police chief Sylvano Kasongo said in a statement.
“These unacceptable acts will be punished in accordance with the law,” Kasongo said. “The stolen objects will be returned.”
Congolese security forces killed more than 300 BDK members and bystanders in crackdowns on sometimes violent protests in 2007 and 2008, dumping their bodies in the Congo River or mass graves, rights groups say.
After escaping from prison in May 2017, Nsemi spent two years on the run before reappearing at a news conference in Kinshasa last year, pledging to contribute to the development of the country.
He has remained in Kinshasa for the past year, sometimes lashing out at President Felix Tshisekedi and others with xenophobic slurs that accuse them of having ties to Congo’s eastern neighbor Rwanda.
“He terrorized people here in the neighborhood. We are very happy with his arrest. He belongs in prison,” a neighbor of Nsemi told Reuters.
Reporting by Stanis Bujakera; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Leslie Adler