DR Congo to expel foreign pro-democracy activists

DR Congo soldiers open fire to disperse a crowd of pro-democracy demonstrators on January 20 2015 in Kinshasa (AFP Photo/Papy Mulongo) (AFP/File)

Kinshasa (AFP) - Pro-democracy activists from Senegal and Burkina Faso arrested in Democratic Republic of Congo on suspicion of planning to destabilise the country will be expelled and banned from returning, the government announced on Wednesday.

"They will be expelled from the country. They are also being declared persona non grata," DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP. "It's the best solution we could find."

Militants from DR Congo, Senegal and Burkina Faso -- as well as foreign journalists and US diplomat Kevin Sturr -- were arrested at a press conference organised by pro-democracy activists on Sunday after a meeting in the capital Kinshasa.

The journalists and the US diplomat were released hours after their detention.

Authorities said the activists had gathered to plan a "campaign to destabilise" the mineral-rich nation, which included "acts of violence".

Mende said the government expects a decision within 48 hours from prosecutors about possible charges against the Congolese activists arrested Sunday.

Searches turned up a book titled "Return of the Jihadists" and a book about military clothing, which Mende said proved the militants were a real threat to the country.

He added that officials had also discovered $100,000 (94,200 euros) in foreign funds in a Kinshasa bank, earmarked to finance the militants' activities.

The arrested activists 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.

Also among those detained on Sunday were members from Burkina Faso's Balai Citoyen, which helped topple president Blaise Compaore from power in October 2014.

On Tuesday, another set of rights activists were taken into custody in the eastern city of Goma as they protested against the arrests in Kinshasa. They have since been released, officials in Goma confirmed on Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed serious concern over the arrests.

"The Congolese government's detention of pro-democracy activists is the latest alarming sign of a crackdown on peaceful protest ahead of next year's presidential elections," said Ida Sawyer, a senior HRW Africa researcher.

Tensions have been rising in the DRC after up to 42 people died in protests in Kinshasa in January.

Violence had erupted over an electoral bill that was seen as offering a way for President Joseph Kabila to stay on beyond the end of his mandate in 2016.