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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Mass jailbreak in DR Congo
A major search is under way in DR Congo after nearly 200 prisoners escaped from three detention centres in the south-eastern province of Katanga.

Justice Minister Kisimba Ngoy said 172 inmates escaped from Lubumbashi's Kasapa prison on Tuesday night, and others escaped from nearby prisons.

The guards fled, abandoning their weapons after an attack by prisoners.

The escapes were organised by former soldiers and 15 prisoners have so far been caught, the minister said.

General Alengbia Nzambe, in charge of the army in Katanga, told the BBC that eight prisoners had escaped from a military cell and another 10 inmates from the prison in Kipushi, some 20km west of Lubumbashi, DR Congo's second city.

Insecurity

A local human rights group claim the escapes happened with the complicity of the political and military authorities.

They say that 53 of the escapees were soldiers in President Joseph Kabila's special guard, who were arrested in connection with the killing of a South African businessman last year.

General Alengbia Nzambe denied this and stressed that police and army patrols have been reinforced to maintain security and to arrest the fugitives.

But according to the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in the capital Kinshasa, this has not reassured people in Lubumbashi.

They fear that the simultaneous escapes may create renewed insecurity in the town, local residents told our correspondent.

Insecurity is proving to be the biggest concern for the power-sharing government, which has just marked its first anniversary.

Last month renegade soldiers took control of the eastern town of Bukavu, sparking fears that the peace deal to end five years of civil war could unravel.



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