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DR Congo officials probe death of Norwegian prisoner

Police officers stand guard in Kinshasa on February 16, 2013. Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo are probing the death of a Norwegian prisoner in a case of suspected murder or suicideAFP/File

Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo are probing the death of a Norwegian prisoner in a case of suspected murder or suicide, the government said Monday.

The body of Tjostolv Moland was "discovered yesterday, Sunday, in the morning" in his death-row jail cell in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP.

"The first clues are being examined to find out whether (it was) murder or suicide. The doctor required by the Norwegian consulate has examined the corpse. The body has been taken to the Mama Yemo hospital for an autopsy," he added.

Moland, 32, and his friend Joshua French, 31, who has dual Norwegian-British nationality, were sentenced to death in June 2010 after being convicted of spying and of killing the Congolese driver of a car they had rented.

The men, both former soldiers, rejected all charges against them and said that the driver was killed by bandits. They said that they had come to DR Congo to set up a security firm.

"The other Norwegian (French) is being questioned by magistrates in the presence of his lawyer and somebody from the consulate," Mende said.

On Sunday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide announced Moland's death but gave no indication of the cause. A Norwegian diplomat had been sent to the jail, he added.

Shortly after their conviction Moland and French wrote to Congolese President Joseph Kabila to ask for a pardon or for their death sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment that could eventually be served in Norway. Norwegian authorities have since been trying to negotiate a transfer to the Scandinavian country.

No executions have been carried out in DR Congo since Kabila came to power in 2001 and death sentences have regularly been commuted to life imprisonment.

Penal facilities in the vast country date from Belgian colonial times and are decrepit and overcrowded. Inmates are exposed to many diseases, dehydration and starvation. Rights groups report that prisoners can die of hunger or torture.

According to the United Nations mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, the number of deaths in prison "almost doubled in 2012" and conditions remain "extremely precarious in the vast majority of detention centres".