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Servicemen of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo patrol in Beni, August 19, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Fourteen members of a religious sect aiming to revive the pre-colonial Kongo kingdom died during clashes with the police and locals in western Democratic Republic of Congo, the interior ministry said on Thursday.

The Bundu dia Mayala (BDM) sect wants to restore the kingdom that thrived for centuries around the mouth of the Congo River and includes portions of Congo, Congo Republic, Angola and Gabon.

BDM has clashed sporadically with government forces in the past and tensions have escalated over the past month, with the group telling local media it is unhappy about the government’s treatment of its leader, the self-styled prophet and former member of parliament Ne Muanda Nsemi.

Seven police officers were also seriously injured in the raid on Wednesday morning on a house in the Kongo-Central province, where BDM members had gathered to pray, interior minister Gilbert Kankonde said in statement.

“Facing strong resistance … the local population resolved to lend a hand to the police, which led to the stampede of these outlaws and the demolition of the house,” Kankonde said.

Security forces found several guns, ammunition and arrows tipped with poison, Kankonde said. BDM’s spokesperson was not reachable for comment.

Nsemi, who has a strong following in the southwestern province of Kongo Central, led a string of deadly protests against former President Joseph Kabila in 2017, leading to his arrest.

But shortly after, in May 2017, his supporters, who often wear quasi-military blue shirts and red berets or bandanas, attacked Kinshasa’s main prison where Nsemi was being held, freeing him and thousands of others.

After two years on the run he re-appeared at a press conference in Kinshasa last year, pledging to contribute to the development of the country.

Reporting by Stanis Bujakera; writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Source: Reuters, April 23, 2020