BDK rebels free leader and fellow inmates in raid on DR Congo prison

Rebels from an outlawed political-religious group attacked Kinshasa's central prison yesterday , breaking out their leader and about 50 other prisoners, the Congolese government said.

"Followers of the Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) attacked Makala prison at dawn and broke out around 50 prisoners including their guru, Ne Muanda Nsemi," government spokesman Lambert Mende said, indicating police had given a chase.

According to a resident, the attack began just before dawn when there were "prolonged exchanges of fire".

One of the prisoners on the run told AFP he had managed to escape during violent clashes between the attackers and the prison guards. A legislator, Nsemi is the spiritual leader of the BDK that has called for an insurrection against Kinshasa. He was arrested along with his three wives and son in March following a violent two-week siege of his home in Kinshasa, DR Congo's capital. The government has accused BDK followers of a string of violent attacks in western DR Congo since the start of the year.

By 8.30am, a column of thick black smoke could be seen over Makala prison, with dozens of police and soldiers blocking off access to the facility.

The dramatic assault took place as DR Congo marks 20 years since the fall of Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the country with an iron fist for more than three decades.

Mobutu was ousted by rebel chief Laurent-Desire Kabila, father of the embattled current president, Joseph Kabila.

BDK stands for "Kingdom of the Kongo" in the Kikongo language, and members of the group want to restore an African monarchy that once included what is today Kongo Central, along with parts of Angola, the Republic of Congo and Gabon.