GOMA — Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have declared a curfew in the town of Lubumbashi, after clashes between insurgents and the army left at least 35 people dead.
The authorities say the curfew will help them track down insurgents who may still be hiding in Lubumbashi.
Officials said 245 insurgents from a movement called Bakata Katanga have been rounded up and were flown Monday to Kinshasa, after deadly clashes on Saturday.
Local sources say lightly armed warriors, some carrying spears and machetes, had marched from the bush to the provincial capital, raiding several farms on their way. They were not stopped until they reached the center of Lubumbashi, where they were met by the president’s Republican Guard.
Opposition lawmaker Fabien Mutomb Kan-Kato told local media the delayed response to the march on the DRC’s mining center suggests the event was stage managed.
It was a set up, he says, orchestrated by people in authority at the national, as well as the local level.
Mutomb said it was not the first time the authorities have tolerated disorder in the province.
He says they allowed the same group to raise its flag in Lubumbashi three year ago, and in another unexplained incident more than 1,000 insurgents escaped from the city’s main jail in 2011.
Interior Minister Richard Muyej has promised an investigation into how the Bakata Katanga militants managed to reach the city center unopposed.
A lawmaker with the ruling coalition, Alexandre Kawaya, says the opposition should wait for the result of the investigation before making allegations.
Kawaya says when lawmaker Mutomb accuses the provincial authorities of being involved in this affair it is as if he already knows the conclusions of an inquiry that has only just been launched.
Analyst Thierry Vircoulon of the International Crisis Group believes the incident shows some politicians in Katanga are not happy with the government’s plan to divide the province into four sub provinces, in line with a decentralization policy nationwide.
He tells VOA the re-emergence of these militants in Katanga shows the president’s decentralization policy, and also perhaps his policies in general, are not appreciated by some of Katanga’s political class.
Decentralization would create winners and losers in mineral rich Katanga, as most of the minerals are concentrated in the south of the province.
Vircoulon says it is a sensitive issue for the government because Katanga is the president’s home region and the one province (out of the DRC’s 11 provinces) in which he has been able to count on support.
Vircoulon says the issue could affect the mining industry in Katanga, which drives the whole Congolese economy. He notes mining companies are taking precautions and are already nervous about the DRC as the government plans to increase its share in joint ventures.