Congolese authorities said on Thursday they had recaptured 179 fugitives who broke out of the capital’s main prison, in a mass escape that underscored growing security concerns since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down from power.
Police in Kinshasa urged residents in a statement to turn in other fugitives and collaborate with authorities “to avoid the resurgence of criminality in the coming days.”
Democratic Republic of Congo’s government initially said about 50 prisoners escaped from Makala prison when it was attacked on Wednesday by supporters of a jailed separatist cult leader.
The justice minister later declined to provide a figure, saying that would interfere with the investigation. But current and former prisoners at Makala told Reuters that about 4,000 prisoners had escaped.
“We recovered 179 of the fugitives,” Fidele Mpayi, the mayor of Kinshasa’s Selembao district, where the prison is situated, told Reuters. He said he did not know how many prisoners had escaped.
Kabila’s decision to remain in power after his mandate expired in December has fueled deadly street protests and a surge in militia violence.
Ne Muanda Nsemi, the self-styled Congolese prophet and leader of the Bundu dia Kongo movement whose supporters led the attack, remains at large, Mpayi said.
Bundu dia Kongo representatives have denied responsibility for the attack.
Nsemi was arrested in March after a series of deadly clashes between police and his supporters, who want to revive the Kongo kingdom, which flourished for centuries around the mouth of the Congo River.
Mpayi added that at least two police officers had been killed in Wednesday’s attack. The government spokesman previously said that one police officer and five assailants had died.
Conflicts in Congo between 1996-2003, mostly in the east, caused the deaths of millions of people, mainly from hunger and disease. Dozens of armed groups continue to fight over natural resources and prey on the civilian population.