, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 6 – Tanzania’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that 24 truckers driving in a convoy from the country had been kidnapped by the Mai-Mai militia in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mindi Kasiga told state television the 21 Tanzanians and three Kenyans were driving trucks belonging to two Tanzania-registered companies when they were taken by the Mai-Mai, a “self-defence” militia made up of various ethnic groups that has clashed repeatedly with Congolese troops.
“They were kidnapped by Mai-Mai fighters on June 29 in Lulimba, in South Kivu province, while they were on their way to the Namoya gold mine in Maniema province,” Kasiga said.
“According to information coming from the Tanzanian embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Mai-Mai rebels attacked the convoy which was being escorted by soldiers from the Congolese army.”
The announcement of the kidnapping came as the Congolese army said 12 people had been killed in clashes between troops and Mai-Mai Yakotumba fighters in South Kivu — two soldiers, nine Mai-Mai and a civilian hit by a stray bullet, according to regional deputy army spokesman Dieudonne Kasereka.
“Our forces are progressing towards the final barrier, the Misisi area,” Kasereka said, adding that four fighters had been captured and heavy weapons recovered. “The enemy has retreated behind the hills.”
Tanzania has asked the Congolese government to take into account the presence of the kidnapped truckers as they continue with operations against the rebels, Kasiga said.
She said the Mai-Mai had robbed the truckers of their money and damaged some of the vehicles, smashing in their windows and slashing their tyres.
The eastern DR Congo has been rocked by more than 20 years of armed conflict among both domestic and foreign armed groups, fuelled by struggle for control of lucrative mineral resources as well as ethnic and property disputes.