KINSHASA (Reuters) - Heavily armed gunmen freed some 300 inmates from a prison in eastern Congo on Saturday, the provincial minister of justice said, amid fears over deteriorating security in the mineral-rich region.
Christophe Ndibeche said the attackers easily overpowered the security guards, freeing all the prisoners from the central prison of Butembo, a town in North Kivu province.
By Sunday evening, authorities had recaptured about 30 of the fugitives, he added.
"These are enemies of peace who committed this attack to liberate the bandits in the prison. We are going to do everything to find them," Ndibeche said.
The assault comes at a time of growing alarm in North Kivu, a mineral-rich province bordering Rwanda and Uganda that has long been plagued by dozens of armed militias.
Last week, suspected rebels from the Ugandan ADF-NALU group carried out two overnight raids near the town of Beni, 50 km (30 miles) north of Butembo, killing more than 50 people.
Ndibeche said that highway bandits were the most likely culprits in the prison break given that group’s strong representation among the prison population.
Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Crispian Balmer