Ten Tanzanian and Kenyan truck drivers have been kidnapped in Namoyo, South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the hostage takers, suspected to be Mai Mai rebels, are demanding a ransom of 87m/- for their release.
Head of Communications in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Ms Mindi Kasiga, told reporters in Dar es Salaam yesterday that the kidnappers have given 24 hours, which expired yesterday at 16:00 hours for settling the payments. Ms Kasiga said that the captors demanded 4,000 US dollars, equivalent to 8.7 million/-, for each driver so that they can be released.
"Tanzanian government has taken preliminary measures to rescue the drivers including communicating with DRC government for the drivers to be released safely,” she said. Ms Kasiga explained that according to preliminary reports, 12 drivers were kidnapped together with their trucks on Wednesday.
Two of them managed to escape and helped to inform about the incident. She said the kidnappers were suspected to be members of the Mai Mai rebel group operating in the eastern DRC’s borderland.
Ms Kasiga explained that after ambushing the trucks, the rebels ordered the drivers to disembark from their vehicles as the kidnappers set on fire four trucks belonging to Tanzanian businessman Azim Dewji. According to Ms Kasiga, out of the 12 trucks seized, eight belonged to Dewji and four of them were the property of a Kenyan businessman.
"This is the second incident after the one which occurred last year whereby Muslim clerics from Tanzania were kidnapped in DR Congo but with the cooperation of the two countries, they were released without any harm,” Ms Kasiga said. She added: "I believe that the measures taken to rescue the Muslim clerics will also be applied to rescue the drivers.”
She, however, called upon the business community in the country to ensure that they get enough information regarding security of the areas with problems such as eastern DRC, particularly Kivu Province before transporting their goods.
Further details from the government and Tanzania Truck Owners Association (TATOA) indicated the Mai Mai group had issued 24-hours ultimatum from 4:00 pm on Wednesday.
TATOA Chairperson Ms Angelina Ngalula told the ’Daily News’ by phone that the association was as well working with the Congolese business community to facilitate release of the drivers ’harmlessly.’
Ms Ngalula said the bad news resurfaced on Wednesday evening when four trucks owned by Mr Dewji’s company - Simba Logistics Limited - were set ablaze by the militia. "We tried to get details but it wasn’t easy.
It was only when the two drivers escaped the heavily armed group and secured refuge at Namoya mining that we managed to get further details," she said. "We held discussions early today (Thursday) with the Director of Africa Affairs in the ministry, Ambassador Samwel Shelukindo and the ministry assured us of help to facilitate the release of drivers," she explained.
She said that the kidnapping took place at Kaselebele and Matete, some 30 kilometres from Namoya town and that the empty trucks were driving to Tanzania after discharging cargo at Barno in DRC. The trucks, according to Mr Dewji, were carrying cement and had already discharged their cargo. "Four of my trucks have been turned into ashes.
The other trucks were also seriously damaged and have been moved to a police station in Namoya. "They want money. We were supposed to make the payment before 4:00 pm, but it seems nothing bad has happened and we believe our drivers are safe," Mr Dewji told the ‘Daily News’.
According to Mr Dewji, his trucks were worth 1.6bn/-. Media reports had it that the Congo-based militia was founded by Mr Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, who escaped from prison in 2011.
In August, last year, eight Muslim clerics were kidnapped by rebels in DRC, two of whom were later released on humanitarian grounds due to old age and failing health. The eight clerics were said to have made their religious mission in the war-ravaged country without informing responsible state agencies.
The efforts taken by the two governments helped the clerics to be released and returned home safely. The six clerics were Ali Khamis Suleiman, Abdullah S. Mohamed, Amini Awest Mohamed, Makame Khamis and Abeid Issa Juma, all from Zanzibar.