By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 25, 2006
JOHANNESBURG, May 24 -- Three Americans were among at least 26 security workers arrested and jailed last week in Congo on suspicion of plotting a coup in advance of national elections in July, officials and news services reported Wednesday.
Fifteen of the suspects are employed by a South African security company, Omega Security Solutions, whose parent company has offices in Pretoria, the South African capital. A company official said the detained Americans work for two U.S. companies that are arranging security and logistics for the campaign of a presidential candidate in Congo. The other suspects are Nigerians.
From Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, Interior Minister Theophile Mbemba said 32 men with military gear were arrested, but he offered few other details, the Associated Press reported. "It is clear that they were military personnel with political plans. . . . They were part of a coup attempt, and they will face justice in Congo," he said.
Congo, a troubled, resource-rich central African country of 63 million people, is uneasily emerging from years of dictatorship and war. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for July 30.
The president of Congo, Joseph Kabila, is seeking to remain in office in the elections. He took over after the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, in 2001.
Officials from Omega said employees from its Congolese subsidiary were working with two American companies employed by the campaign of Oscar Kashala, a Congolese presidential candidate who holds both U.S. and Congolese citizenships.
Kashala, a Harvard-educated physician, recently moved to Congo from his home in Massachusetts. The three arrested Americans were consultants who were handling security and logistics for Kashala, said Christo Roelofse, an official with Omega International Associates, the parent company based in Pretoria.
The U.S. State Department confirmed the arrests of the three Americans but declined to release details about them.
Roelofse said his company does not employ mercenaries and is mystified by the allegations. About half of the 15 Omega employees arrested Friday, he said, were working on a government project to upgrade security at a port.
"We aren't doing anything illegal," he said.