DRC sends ‘coup plotters’ home

The men arrived on board a South African Airways flight from Kinshasa last Sunday evening and were met by family members and government officials. Omega Security manager Stefan Ferreira, who was among the men arrested in the DRC, said the men were relieved to be back in South Africa, and that their arrest had been a “total misunderstanding”. “It was a total misunderstanding, we were held and released without being charged,” he told reporters after arriving at Johannesburg International Airport. Several of the men detained by DRC law enforcement officials two weeks ago said they had been “worried and stressed” by the ordeal and would not be returning to the DRC anytime soon. “Under the current regime I will not go back there. But if there is a change in government, I might consider going back” said Pretoria resident Herman Thyssen. Chris Sauer (68) said he had been angry at the arrest and the allegations made by the DRC government but was “over it” and eager “to get on with life”. “That was the last time. I’ll never go there,” he said. Omega Group chief executive Alex de Witt said last week the company was relieved to have its employees safe and back in the country. He said 15 of the 19 men were Omega employees and were “security systems specialists involved in legal operations within the DRC”. “We are delighted that our staff members have been released and we are grateful to the DRC authorities and the South African Foreign Affairs staff who assisted in achieving their release. “I would like especially to thank our Ambassador, Sisa Ngombane in Kinshasa and DRC’s Ambassador Bene M’pako in Pretoria for their support and commitment in resolving this misunderstanding,” De Witt said. DRC Information minister Henri Mova Sakanyi however said the DRC government continues to believe the men were plotting a takeover, but the state had opted to release them rather than face a lengthy court case just ahead of elections. “We are approaching the elections. It would have taken a lot of time to process their cases,” Sakanyi said. A United Nations spokesperson in Kinshasa told a local news agency last week that the organisation believes the arrests were an attempt at political manipulation before the elections. The UN has deployed nearly 18 000 peacekeepers to the DRC to help maintain order as the much anticipated election approaches. Sakanyi said the Americans left on Saturday, the South Africans on Sunday and the Nigerians on Monday, though he did not know if they would be taken into custody on arrival. “We have spoken with their respective ambassadors and we have said that these people are delinquents and should face proper justice,” Sakanyi said. The men were arrested together with ten Nigerians and three American citizens – who were also released – two weeks ago, on allegations of attempting a coup of the country and trying to destabilize the DRC ahead of general elections scheduled to take place at the end of next month. Despite the “misunderstanding”, De Witt said the company was still carrying on operations in the DRC and would continue to recruit employees for its operations in the country. “We have contracts in place, we’d like to continue with our contracts and support the DRC government,” De Witt said. He added that he would be going to the DRC to deal with “any outstanding matters”.

June 2006
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