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Kabila murder convicts vanish from Congo jail

Written by: Staff

KINSHASA, Oct 24 (Reuters) More than a dozen people jailed for the 2001 assassination of Congolese President Laurent Kabila vanished from a prison in the capital Kinshasa today, security sources and a human rights group said.

Security sources said up to 14 of the men, who were among scores of people convicted in 2003 over Kabila's assassination, had escaped, while a human rights official raised the possibility that they may have been kidnapped from the jail.

The disappearance comes amid high tension in the city ahead of Sunday's presidential run-off vote between Kabila's son Joseph, who succeeded his father as head of state, and former rebel chief Jean-Pierre Bemba.

''Fourteen of the people accused of assassinating the late President Kabila have escaped from prison,'' a security source said.

A second security source told Reuters: ''Thirteen of them fled. They escaped through the back gate. It seems that this was orchestrated from inside.'' Amigo Ngonde of the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights, a local non-governmental organisation, confirmed the prisoners had vanished from jail but said it was not clear they had escaped.

''Fourteen of the people accused of the killing of Mzee (Laurent Kabila's nickname) have disappeared from Makala,'' Ngonde said. ''Up until now, we don't know how these people got out. We don't know if it was an escape or a kidnapping,'' he added without elaborating.

Kinshasa has been on edge since troops loyal to Joseph Kabila and Bemba fought bloody street battles on the city's streets in August around the time results from a first round of voting were announced.

Kabila led with nearly 45 percent of the vote, well ahead of Bemba with barely 20 percent.

But the poll exposed a deep rift between the Swahili-speaking Kabila's native east and Bemba's Lingala-speaking west, where many distrust Kabila.

Campaigning ahead of the second round has been subdued, but there have been several violent clashes between rival campaigners across the huge, mineral-rich country, where elections are aimed at drawing a line under a devastating 1998-2003 war.

Reuters PDS VP0035

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