Fire Breaks Out at Militia Camp Tied to Congolese Presidential Candidate
KINSHASA, Congo – Fire broke out at a camp of militiamen attached to a main Congolese presidential candidate Thursday, and explosions could be heard behind the camp's walls.
People, including a bleeding toddler, fled from the camp of the militia of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel leader who is one of four vice presidents in Congo's transitional government and among 33 candidates in Sunday's elections. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, but the explosions appeared to be from the camp's munitions stores.
A government soldier who refused to give his name blamed an electrical fault, then ordered journalists away. A fire truck arrived to control the flames.
Shortly before the fire broke out, a jet was heard screaming overhead, leading to speculation among the camp's shaken residents that they had been bombed. But no large explosion had followed the jet's pass.
"A fighter plane flew overhead, practically right over the roofs of our houses. Right after that, the fire broke out," said Titi Mokoami, the wife of one of Bemba's fighters.
The fire quickly destroyed most of the shacks that comprised the camp. Residents fled with what belongings they could salvage. A reporter saw no casualties other than the bleeding child.
Information Minister Henri Mova, who said he had driven by to see what was happening, dismissed the possibility the camp had been bombed.
"It's just a fire," Mova said. "You've got soldiers there whose wives are cooking on open fires. Anything could have caused that fire."
Bemba was holding a campaign rally elsewhere in Kinshasa Thursday.
President Joseph Kabila is considered the front-runner, but no candidate was expected to win the majority needed to avoid a runoff. A runoff election between the top two candidates would be held within weeks of the initial ballot's results if the first-round does not yield a clear winner.