Kinshasa - More than 300 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the government's retaliation for attacks blamed on a self-proclaimed “prophet” in the Democratic Republic of Congo in December, a rights group said Thursday.
The government has previously denied that any citizens have been killed in its hunt for the perpetrators of coordinated December 30 attacks it blames on pastor and former presidential candidate Joseph Mukungubila Mutombo, known by his followers as “the Eternal Prophet”.
But the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said Thursday that “some 250” civilians and six soldiers have been killed in the Katanga province in the southeast of the country, and another 71 civilians killed in Kinshasa.
“The toll is still previsionary because there were people, according to some witnesses... who were thrown in the Katanga river. There are (also) people who are in mass graves,” said Sylvain Lumu, secretary-general of the League of Electors, a local group which helped compile the report.
The government had previously put the toll at “103 dead, including 95 terrorists and eight soldiers”.
On December 30, assailants stormed the state television station, international airport and military headquarters in Kinshasa.
Attacks were also reported in Lubumbashi and Kolwezi in the vast southeastern region of Katanga, and in Kindu in the eastern region of Maniema.
The attackers claimed loyalty to Mukungubila, who challenged President Joseph Kabila in 2006 elections and styled himself as the head of a sect known as the “Ministry for the Restoration of Black Africa”, or MRAN.
He is now in exile in South Africa.
Images on television at the time showed dozens of Kalashnikovs, grenades and rockets purportedly seized from the attackers.
But the pastor denied that his supporters were armed and denounced a “massacre” by the government in response.
According to the FIDH, the repression against the sect amount to “carnage” in Katanga, where supporters of the pastor were hunted down on 30 December and after.
“Most members of the sect were summarily executed, others wounded and dozens of members of MRAN are now detained after being severely tortured or beaten. Several dozen are still missing,” said the group's report.
It said “disproportionate” force was used by security forces, particularly the Republican Guard charged with protection of the president.
“The reaction of the state against civilians is worse than that of the rebels on the battlefield. Faced with people using sticks, whistles, tambourines, did they need to punish by spilling blood?” said Lumu.
The Congolese authorities could not be immediately reached for comment.
Mukungubila has been a fierce critic of Kabila for years. In an open letter dated December 5, expressed bitterness at the way the country was being run.
He showed his hate for neighbouring Rwanda, which once invaded the DR Congo, is accused by the United Nations of backing rebels.
Mukungubila and Kabila are both from the resource-rich southeastern state of Katanga, which the president was visiting at the time of the attacks.
On May 15, South Africa detained Mukungubila for several hours on a Interpol arrest warrant “following a complaint by the Congolese government”, the pastor's lawyer told AFP.
He is due to appear before a court in South Africa accused of murder and several other charges on July 15.
“We don't have the impression that the attackers had any other objective Ä in such small numbers, with such weak weaponry Ä but to seek... to spread panic and terror on the eve of the New Year's festivities,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said at the time.