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Five Congolese police officers killed in protest over eastern jailbreak

ERIKAS MWISI KAMBALE

FIVE Congolese police officers were killed in the eastern city of Butembo and security vehicles were burned, local authorities said, as public frustration mounted after suspected Islamists freed more than 800 inmates from the central prison.

Protests broke out in western parts of Butembo, with participants angry about how the prison in the middle of the city was attacked on Wednesday with such apparent ease, said Van Germain Katsiwa, a representative of a local civil society group.

“The situation is critical – we’ve seen a massive break-out in Butembo and we don’t know where they’ve escaped to,” he said by phone.

Congolese troops have been able to quell the unrest but the mood in the city remained tense, said Antony Mwalushayi, a spokesperson for the army’s operations against armed groups in North Kivu province.

He confirmed that five police officers had been killed and three police jeeps burned in the unrest. He did not say how the officers were killed.

A Reuters reporter outside Butembo could still hear the crackle of gunfire from the city at around 2 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).

The army has blamed the jailbreak on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamic State-linked militant group from Uganda that has been active in eastern Congo since the 1990s.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on Thursday, according to the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which follows militant websites.

Escapes are common from Congo’s overcrowded and poorly secured prisons. In 2020, the ADF was linked to a prison break that freed more than 1,300 inmates in the city of Beni, which is also in North Kivu province.