Kashala is wanted by police in Kinshasa

By Time of article published May 26, 2006

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By Beauregard Tromp and Graema Hosken

Dr Oscar Kashala, the Democratic Republic of Congo presidential candidate who was being guarded by 19 South Africans now under arrest in the DRC for plotting a coup, is a wanted man in Kinshasa.

But there were indications on Thursday that the DRC authorities might be backing off their initial accusations that the employees of a Pretoria-based security company were plotting to overthrow DRC President Joseph Kabila on behalf of Kashala.

Congolese security officials have been holding the 19 South Africans, 10 Nigerians and three Americans since Friday last week. The government originally alleged that the 32 men were conspiring to mount a coup.

But South Africa's ambassador to the DRC, Sisa Ngombane, said on Thursday it now seemed some of the men might be freed and others would simply be charged with lesser offences such as entering the country without proper papers.

However, he said he had been unable to get a meeting with the authorities to confirm what charges, if any, they intended to lay.

The focus has now shifted to Kashala, who has accused Kabila's government of inventing the coup plot to smear him. "Dr Kashala is wanted by the police," said his spokesperson, Lilian Tshintupu, on Thursday.

The police hunt for Kashala came after the 32 detainees all apparently pointed to Kashala as the only man able to answer questions put to them by police while in detention. "He decided not to go (to the police) because the way things work there, you could walk into the police station and end up there for the rest of your days," said Tshintupu.

Kashala sent legal representatives to the police station instead. Congolese authorities are still seeking him.

Late on Thursday afternoon the UN peacekeeping mission to the Congo, Monuc, held meetings with various ambassadors in the capital and later with Kashala about the incident.

Fifteen of the arrested South Africans work for the Pretoria-based security company, Omega Risk Solutions, which says the men were in the DRC to do security training and give logistical support to Kashala's campaign. Omega has been operating in the DRC for two years.

None of the detained men is believed to have been armed, which has cast further doubt on the coup allegations.

Most observers believe the men were arrested as part of a political smear campaign against Kashala.

"The only reason we can come up with is that Dr Kashala is becoming a real (political) threat. Suddenly here is a heavyweight with the right academic background and the money to do something for the Congolese," said Tshintupu.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that most of the South Africans arrested in the DRC were members of the formidable former 32 Battalion.

Of the South Africans detained, eight are from Pretoria. The names of three of the detainees were released on Thursday. They are Graca da Costa and Samuel Andreas of Pretoria, and Fernando Semende of North West Province.

An ORS employee, who missed the DRC contract because he was in Iraq, said most of those being held were former members of 32 Battalion.

He said several of those now in jail had also just returned from Iraq where they had been protecting installations such as water purification plants at Ai Rustamiyah and Anumaniyah.

The security expert said those arrested were unarmed so it was highly unlikely they would have been plotting to overthrow the DRC government.

Agreeing with him, ORS chief executive Alex de Witt said none of their staff had weapons. Eight of their employees currently jailed had returned from Iraq when their contracts were completed and had been sent to the DRC because of their French-speaking abilities.

South Africa's ambassador to the DRC, Sisa Ngombane, said a consular visit to the men was planned later this week and they were doing everything in the power to help them.

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