Eight guardsmen sentenced to life for killing aviation official

A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo sentenced eight presidential guardsmen to life imprisonment on Tuesday for the murder of an official of the national aviation agency.

"The soldiers beat up an agent of the Regie des Voies Aeriennes [the country's air navigation and air traffic control agency], who died 12 hours later," Col Frank Molisho, the auditor general of the military justice department in Maniema, told IRIN from Kindu.

The soldiers, belonging to the Special Presidential Security Group, committed the crime in August in Kindu, capital of the central province of Maniema, when they were deployed there to prepare for a visit by President Joseph Kabila to the area.

"It is not easy to condemn elements from the Special Presidential Security Group," Molisho said. "They depend on the presidency. It is not easy to arrest them. Authorities have helped us."

He said the aviation official was an elderly man who had thrown down a still-lit cigarette butt, which ignited a shrub. The soldiers allegedly beat him up because they objected to the lighting of the fire because of the presence of live artillery shells left by foreign troops during war in the country in the 1990s.

Maniema Governor Kolosso Sumahili said the soldiers would be transferred to Buluwo, a prison on a small island in the southeastern province of Katanga.