South Africa police say 'ringleader' of 19 Congolese rebels allegedly plotting coup arrested

Police in South Africa said Sunday they arrested the "ringleader" of a group of 19 Congolese rebels who now face charges of allegedly plotting a war to unseat Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

The leader, who police declined to identify before his arraignment this week in a Pretoria court, was arrested Friday in Cape Town, said Capt. Paul Ramaloko, a spokesman for South African Police Service. Ramaloko said the man didn't fight his arrest, though he declined to offer any other details.

"He cooperated with us," the captain said.

Ramaloko identified the man as the "ringleader" of the alleged rebel group, making it likely the man is Etienne Kabila, who prosecutors identified last week as being in charge of the group. Kabila claims to be a son of Congo's assassinated president Laurent Kabila, something the Kabila family denies. Laurent Kabila's son, Joseph Kabila, is Congo's current president.

On Feb. 5, police arrested the 19 suspected rebels in South Africa's northeastern Limpopo Province. Prosecutors later said the men thought they had been on their way to a training camp, where they would learn the tactics they'd need to "wage a full-scale war" against the Kabila government. Instead, prosecutors said those that the group first contacted in September were actually undercover police officers.

The suspected rebels asked the undercover officers for thousands of machine guns and grenades, as well as missiles, cash, radios and satellite phones, prosecutors said. In return, the group offered the officers mining rights for eastern Congo, where experts estimate there mineral deposits worth trillions of dollars, prosecutors said.

One of the arrested suspects is James Kazongo, a U.S. citizen who lives in Middletown, Delaware. Kazongo has denied the charges against him and has been in contact with the United States Embassy in South Africa.

The 19 men face charges of violating South Africa's Foreign Military Assistance Act, which bars people from plotting coups or mercenary activities in foreign nations. The men will appear at a bail hearing scheduled for Feb. 14, where prosecutors could present more evidence against them.

The men, who have yet to hire lawyers, did not enter pleas at their arraignment hearing last week.

Prosecutors have said a man they identified as "General Yakutumba" also was on the run from police. That could be William Amuri Yakutumba, a former Congo army captain who now runs his own militia in eastern Congo. His whereabouts remained unknown Sunday.


Jon Gambrell can be reached at .