American diplomat freed after DR Congo arrest

An American diplomat and five journalists arrested alongside activists in Democratic Republic of Congo have been released, but the African activists remain in custody on suspicion of planning to destabilise the country, officials said on Monday.

AFP| Last Updated: Mar 17, 2015, 02:36 AM IST

Kinshasa: An American diplomat and five journalists arrested alongside activists in Democratic Republic of Congo have been released, but the African activists remain in custody on suspicion of planning to destabilise the country, officials said on Monday.

Militants from Senegal, DR Congo and Burkina Faso -- as well as the journalists and US diplomat Kevin Sturr -- were detained at a press conference the pro-democracy critics organised Sunday in the capital Kinshasa.

"We have released the diplomat and the journalists" but the others were still being questioned concerning a "campaign to destabilise" the mineral-rich nation, said DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende.

"We`re talking about preparing acts of violence... they (Senegalese and Burkinabe) did not come here for a conference but to plan hostile acts between Congolese groups," he added.

Sturr, who is an official with American government aid agency USAID, and the arrested journalists were released on Sunday.

The State Department confirmed Sturr had been released unharmed after being held for several hours "following an inquiry by the embassy in Kinshasa."

"We have not been officially informed as to why he was detained," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"Our ambassador in Kinshasa has raised this at the highest levels with the DRC government," she told reporters, adding the country`s embassy in Washington had also been contacted by the State Department.

Activists from the three nations gathered in Kinshasa Saturday for a meeting they said was intended to raise consciousness and mobilise young people about good government and democracy.

Security forces arrested about 30 people Sunday at the activists` press conference, including three French reporters working respectively for AFP, BBC and Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

A Congolese journalist with BBC and a Congolese reporter with TV channel Antenne A were also taken into custody.

The activists still being held included Fadel Barro, the charismatic head of the Senegalese group "Fed up" (Y`en a marre). It battled against ex-Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, whose bid for a controversial third term sparked deadly violence in Dakar.

Kinshasa has been tense since violent anti-government demonstrations in January which the government said left 27 people dead, while rights groups put the toll at 42.

Protestors took to the streets against election legislation seen as paving the way for President Joseph Kabila to extend his hold on power beyond the current two-term limit.

"Arresting people for expressing their opinion, which is the case for Y`en a marre... is a violation of regional and international standards in terms of human rights," said Alioune Tine, a regional bureau director for Amnesty International.

These arrests are going to "contribute to increasing tensions and intolerance in DRC," he added.