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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007, 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK
DR Congo crash toll 'passes 100'
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At least 100 people have died in a train crash in central Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said.

Scores more people have been injured, with some still trapped under carriages that overturned when the train's brakes failed late on Wednesday.

UN helicopters have transported medics to the crash site, 170km (105 miles) west of Kananga in West Kasai province.

Accidents are common on DR Congo's colonial-era rail network which has had little maintenance since 1960.

We suspect there still may be people trapped under the wagons - we need heavy machinery to lift them
UN spokesman Alexandre Esson

The Minister for Information, Toussaint Tshilombo Send, said at least 100 people had died, adding that bodies were still being discovered.

President Joseph Kabila was sending a high-level delegation including government ministers and medical staff to the scene to assess the situation and assist victims, Mr Send said.

He said an investigation would also be launched.

Fear

Rail officials said when the brakes failed, the train, which was carrying goods and passengers, picked up speed. Seven of the 10 carriages then overturned.

Derailed train in DR Congo (File photo)
Accidents are common on DR Congo's colonial-era rail network
The UN peacekeeping force in Congo said the incident occurred about 2300 local time (2200 GMT).

"This afternoon we sent a helicopter with doctors, nurses, and local authorities. At the moment, they are on the ground there," Reuters quoted UN spokesman Alexandre Essone as saying.

"We suspect there still may be people trapped under the wagons. We need heavy machinery, though, to lift these wagons," he said.

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa says the driver of the diesel locomotive fled, fearing retaliation from villagers.

Disrepair

DR Congo's railway was built under Belgian rule more than 100 years ago.

Originally, trains were used to transport copper from the mines of the southern province of Katanga to the country's main port near the Atlantic Ocean.

Since then the copper route has changed, and the mineral is now transported to ports in South Africa.

No longer essential for the transportation of minerals, the rail network's refurbishment has not been high on the agenda of Congolese authorities, our correspondent says.

But in a vast country with less than 500km of roads, planes and trains are the only means of transport.




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