Deadly gunfight in DR Congo mining capital Lubumbashi

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing Lubumbashi

A deadly gun battle has erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo mining capital of Lubumbashi.

President Joseph Kabila is in the town to preside over Thursday's Independence Day ceremonies.

Reports indicate that a military depot was the focus of the assault, but officials deny this.

Police opened fire on the attackers. Two gunmen and three civilians were killed in the gun battle, which lasted just under an hour.

The gunfire began on Wednesday between 0300-0400 local time in an industrial area of Lubumbashi where an army weapons depot, mining companies and railway tracks are located side-by-side.

'No political links'

Eyewitnesses told the BBC French service correspondent in the city that attackers had targeted the military depot and made radio calls for reinforcements.

The three civilians killed included two security guards, one of whom worked for the local railway company, and the other for the fuel storage depot.

The BBC correspondent at the scene saw 14 jeeps carrying presidential guards leave the army base in the afternoon.

The UN station Radio Okapi and another source confirmed the attack on the military base, but the authorities have a different version.

According to government spokesman Lambert Mende, the gunmen were robbers interested in minerals stored by Volcano Mining, a private company next door.

"We can understand because there was an army depot not far from the Volcano Mining estate so they might [make a] mistake, thinking it was the depot that was attacked," said Mr Mende.

"But no depots were attacked, not even the army was implicated in what happened, only police and the bandits.

"So there are no political links with those bandits, we know they are really robbers," he said.

BBC Kinshasa correspondent Thomas Hubert said the local authorities have not responded to media inquiries.

Image caption Lubumbashi, the centre of the copper industry, has seen previous political violence

He said the admission of an outbreak of political violence in Lubumbashi would be an embarrassment for the Congolese authorities as foreign diplomats are expected to join President Joseph Kabila in the city for the 51st anniversary of independence celebrations on Thursday.

The surrounding Katanga province is regarded as stable compared to the conflict-ridden Kivu region further north, and many foreign companies have invested there.

But in February, gunmen attacked Lubumbashi's airport, killed a security guard and left behind the flag of an old Katangan secessionist movement known as the Tigers.

A few weeks later, another group of armed men targeted president President Kabila's residence in Kinshasa, but no solid evidence of either of those group's political affiliation has emerged.

Earlier this month, several sources reported that Elie Kapend, a former Tiger leader who is now running in the forthcoming presidential election, was arrested on his way to Angola.