Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Congolese minister assaulted, stripped naked in London

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A senior member of the Congolese Cabinet was attacked in London by a gang who beat him around the head and body with a baseball bat, stripped him and posted pictures of his clothes on the Internet.

On Tuesday night, Scotland Yard launched an investigation into the assault on Leonard She Okitundu, the chief of staff to Joseph Kabila, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, amid questions over why a foreign diplomat should be so vulnerable. The politician was left in the Accident and Emergency Department of the Middlesex Central hospital in London with no trousers, covered in a blanket.

"The police didn't seem to care. No one helped me and I was naked, that would never happen in my country," he said. "I wasn't seen by a nurse for two hours and not by a doctor until 2am. I explained that I was a VIP ... but no one cared to give me a pair of trousers. The Foreign Office have done nothing to help me."

Okitundu believes the humiliation was orchestrated by Kabila's enemies in London. He was due to appear on the Original Black Entertainment TV channel when he and two colleagues were assaulted by more than 20 men outside its studios in Park Royal in northwest London.

His clothes were forcibly removed and his briefcase, containing passport, money and credit cards, as well as official papers, were stolen. His attackers posted pictures of Okitundu's monogrammed suit, his Mont Blanc pen and the business cards of the MPs and officials that he had met that day, as well as condoms that were in his pocket. His underpants were captured on a cameraphone turned inside out.

"I left the Foreign Office and went to the television station and the people were waiting for us in the car park. I didn't even have time to open the door of the car before people attacked me with baseball bats," Okitundu said.

"They pulled me out of the car to beat and kick me. They took my jacket and my trousers, my shirt and my pants. Then they dragged me and left me lying naked," he said.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Kabila was informed of the incident by British diplomats.

"We were on the phone very quickly and explained what happened," he said.

He added that the Foreign Office could have arranged for security to accompany Okitundu's party but were never asked.

Okitundu went to hospital with the two other victims, former ambassador Henri Nswana and his party's UK chairman, Placide Mbatika. He was in London visiting the all-parliamentary group of the Great Lakes Region of Africa as well as the Foreign Office.

He had been discussing the recent elections in Congo in which President Kabila won 45 percent and his rival, the former rebel leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, polled just 20 percent. The two are due to face each other again in another presidential election on Oct. 29.

Bemba's supporters accuse Kabila of being a puppet of the west and other foreign agencies. The majority of Congolese expatriates in London support Bemba.

Albert Mukendi of the group Congolese Rights said the attack and humiliation of Okitundu was "a very bad thing."

But he also said: "People are not happy about him being here. Many Congolese here do not like Kabila."

Philippe Mandangi, a London spokesman for the opposition UDPS Party said: "The situation is very tense here in the UK and people are very angry."

Okitundu said his attackers shouted that he was working for the Rwandans.

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