Mai Mai fighters flown to DR Congo capital after clashes

Some 230 Mai Mai rebels who battled government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo's mining capital, Lubumbashi, at the weekend were Monday flown to the capital Kinshasa on two aircraft, an airport source said.

The Mai Mai, a local tribal militia, took refuge in premises of the United Nations after the clashes on Saturday, which claimed at least five lives. They were disarmed then handed over to the army, which on Monday detained them in a hangar at Kinshasa's military airport.

The arrival of this rebel group in Lubumbashi, which has a population of about two million including 2,000 Westerners, caused panic in the southeastern city.

Shooting broke out when the Mai Mai closed in on the offices of the governor of Katanga province, Moise Katumbi, and demanded his resignation.

Governor Moise Katumbi told AFP the army had managed to surround the group and force it to surrender to United Nations peacekeepers stationed in Lubumbashi. The Mai Mai's weapons were seized.

More than 50 people were wounded in the clashes, including 15 in a serious condition who were hospitalised.

The full casualty toll from the clashes remains unclear.

A police source initially reported five dead, including four in the security forces, while a Western diplomatic source gave an unconfirmed toll of 20 dead.

A statement from the UN mission in the DR Congo, MONUSCO, reported 35 dead, citing local non-governmental organisations and noting that this was only an estimate. None of these figures could be officially confirmed.

The Mai Mai came from a force known as Katakatanga, which seeks the secession of Katanga province, and had for several weeks controlled a nearby town, Kinsevere, without incident.

Katanga province, the economic heartland of the DR Congo and source of the copper and cobalt exports that provide the greater part of its foreign income, has often been troubled by separatist forces.

On independence in 1960, Moise Tshombe, helped by the former colonial power Belgium, led a secessionist movement, which was put down with the aid of UN intervention.