Africa

Kinshasa: Heavy gunfire, hostage scenario wreaks panic among residents

AFP

Residents in the capital of the DRC have been left to feel uneasy after gunfire erupted throughout the city and several reporters were taken hostage.

Shooting was heard near the Tshatshi military camp as well as the international airport at Ndjili, residents and a local journalist said. (AFP)

Heavy gunfire erupted in several areas of the Congolese capital Kinshasa on Monday, including the international airport and the military headquarters, causing panic among residents.

Police also said armed youths had taken hostage several reporters from the state television station RTNC in Kinshasa.

"There's panic in the city, people are asking what is happening," a local resident said, adding that he had seen police and military officers deploy around the RTNC building and the nearby Parliament of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Shooting was heard near the Tshatshi military camp as well as the international airport at Ndjili, residents and a local journalist said.

Police officers, soldiers and the president's Republican Guard fanned out across the capital to restore security, an Agence France-Presse reporter saw. Traffic was slowed down and security forces were restricting the movements of civilians in some areas.

A smell of gunpowder hung in the air, the reporter said.

A police spokesperson said earlier that journalists at RTNC had been taken hostage by armed youths, and the television feed had been cut.

'Armed with machetes and guns'
"They are armed with machetes and guns. They have taken reporters hostage. An operation is under way to dislodge them," spokesperson Colonel Mwana Mputu said.

Before the station's television feed was cut, two young presenters were seen on screen, appearing frightened but calm, with a young man standing behind them seemingly threatening them.

The DRC is a vast country rich in a wide range of minerals, where eastern provinces have been in turmoil since even before President Joseph Kabila took office in wartime in January 2001, following the assassination of his father, Laurent-Desire.

The western capital has by contrast remained relatively calm, apart from an apparent coup bid in 2003 blamed by police on troops loyal to ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown by Laurent-Desire Kabila in 1997. The uprising was rapidly quashed.

A second coup bid attributed to renegade forces in the presidential guard took place in June 2004, but was also swiftly put down, according to the government and the large UN mission in the troubled country.

Troops and tanks were deployed in the city seven years later, when Kabila was sworn in for his second term as elected president in December 2011, after a vote that led to widespread unrest.

His rival to lead the country, veteran opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi, proclaimed himself the winner of the election and Kabila's victory was marred by international reports of electoral fraud.

Source of trouble in Kinshasa
The main persistent source of trouble in Kinshasa comes from gangs of unemployed armed youths known as "kuluna" who murder, rob and assault residents of the city. Kinshasa police on November 15 launched a three-month operation to tackle these gangs, raising UN complaints of summary executions.

The latest insurgency in the capital comes the month after the national army, or FARDC, achieved a rare and striking military success in the strife-torn eastern North Kivu province over a powerful armed movement, the M23, which surrendered in neighbouring Uganda.

Kabila's troops were backed by a special intervention brigade of UN African soldiers, which had in March been given an unprecedented offensive role by the UN Security Council to neutralise the various armed movements – rebels, army mutineers and tribal militias – that have plagued eastern DRC for more than two decades. – Sapa-AFP

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