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Congo boat disaster leaves 140 dead

River transport provides a lifeline for the Democratic Republic of Congo's economy and public transit and much of the passenger and mercantile traffic flows through the Congo River, Africa's second largest after the Nile.
by Staff Writers
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic Of Congo (UPI) Jul 29, 2010
Congolese rescue teams Thursday searched for survivors after a boat ferrying about 200 passengers to the capital on the Congo river hit a rock and capsized, leaving at least 140 people dead.

Analysts said the boat's sinking was an accident and appeared to bear no relation to major security operations elsewhere in the capital and environs because of continuing rebel activity aimed at toppling the government in neighboring Uganda.

Armed marauding gangs of the Allied Democratic Force have been harassing villagers on both sides of the border and were responsible for violent looting of impoverished inhabitants for food and grain. The latest ADF attack on a Ugandan border village this week left a villager dead, another wounded in a machete attack and two men missing, believed abducted by ADF gangs.

The boat mishap occurred as Kinshasa remained under heavy guard while participants in a just ended African Union summit prepared to leave the capital.

The rescue efforts by under-resourced government teams tried to reach out to dozens of people reported missing by friends and relatives who accompanied them on the boat or awaited their arrival in the capital.

The boat hit a rock in the Congo river's Kasai tributary near Maluku about 80 miles from its final destination in Kinshasa. The boat was carrying passengers and merchandise from the western province of Bandundu and had begun its journey at the town of Mushie.

River transport provides a lifeline for the Democratic Republic of Congo's economy and public transit and much of the passenger and mercantile traffic flows through the Congo River, Africa's second largest after the Nile.

The 2,915-mile-long Congo River is also the scene of frequent disasters that ill-equipped government crews are unable to prevent. Efforts to extend the paved road network beyond about 300 miles at present were thwarted by a combination of corruption, government inefficiency and security bottlenecks. Various parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo are subject to frequent insurgent action, which provided livelihood to men from the poverty-ridden country's vast hinterland.

DRC ranked sixth on the World Development Report's index of 10 countries with the lowest human development indicators, preceded by Burkina Faso and followed by Chad.

In May, more than 100 people died in a similar boat incident on the Congo River.

Government statistics for 2009 showed more than 2,000 people died in accidents on the Congo River, its tributaries and other rivers and lakes.

In May, an overloaded canoe capsized on a river in eastern Congo, drowning several dozen people. At least 90 people died last year after a logging boat carrying passengers in defiance of government rules sank on a lake.

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