Police have arrested 19 Congolese citizens in South Africa on suspicion that they were plotting a coup against the government in Kinshasa.

Johannesburg - Police have arrested 19 Congolese in northern South Africa on suspicion that they were plotting a coup against the government in Kinshasa, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The prosecutors played down comments by law enforcement officials that those arrested had links to M23 rebels, who have carved out a fiefdom in Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province.

“The groupings objective was to receive specialised military related training to overthrow the current (Congo) government, under the leadership of President Joseph Kabila,” the National Prosecuting Authority said in a statement.

The NPA did not elaborate on the suspects' political affiliation. There are several armed anti-government groups in Congo.

“At this stage, no links have been established between the accused and M23,” the NPA said.

The 19, who have not been identified, will appear in a Pretoria court on Thursday to face charges of illegally providing foreign military assistance.

They were arrested in South Africa's northern Limpopo province and more arrests might follow, police spokesperson Lindela Mashigo said.

A law enforcement source who asked not to be named told Reuters earlier that the group included two senior M23 members.

The rebels, who launched their offensive after accusing Kabila of reneging on the terms of a March 2009 peace agreement, have since broadened their goals to include ousting him and taking over the whole of Congo.

Congo's government spokesperson Lambert Mende said authorities had “known for a long time that there have been activities outside the country (to destabilise Congo)”.

Mende did not know if those arrested were M23 members but said there were many people in South Africa sympathetic to former leader Mobutu Sese Seko - the veteran dictator of Congo, previously known as Zaire, who died in 1997 after being overthrown by Kabila's father.

South Africa, the richest country on the continent, has for years attracted characters who have had to flee their homes for political reasons or to escape criminal charges. - Reuters