- Police seized 19 suspected Congolese rebels in South Africa, an official says
- They are accused of plotting a coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- A Congolese government spokesman says the suspects have links to the M23 rebel group
- The M23 rebels seized the city of Goma late last year
An elite South African police squad has arrested 19 suspected Congolese rebels in a remote corner of northern South Africa, an official said, in a raid that may have headed off a coup attempt.
"The grouping's objective was to receive specialized military related training to overthrow the current DRC government, under the leadership of President Joseph Kabila," Makhosini Nkosi, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said in a statement Tuesday.
The alleged coup plotters were tracked to a remote area of Limpopo province, suggesting long-term surveillance by South African law enforcement.
The National Prosecuting Authority said that no South Africans have been linked to the suspects but that further arrests were possible.
Congolese government officials were quick to blame M23, a rebel group operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province.
The group embarrassed the Congolese government by briefly seizing the key eastern city of Goma late last year, before withdrawing to positions outside the city.
"We know very well that these men have links to M23," said Lambert Mende, a DRC government spokesman.
"They were planning terrorist attacks in South Africa targeting Congolese officials and in DRC. Their ultimate aim was to overthrow the regime," said Mende, citing internal discussions with South African counterparts.
But the National Prosecuting Authority said that no links have been established between the 19 men arrested Tuesday and the M23 group.
M23 rebel commanders, who are engaged in sporadic peace talks with the Congolese government, were not immediately available for comment.
Mende said the arrested men also had links to former Congolese strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the country, then known as Zaire, for more than three decades.
The arrested men will appear in court in Pretoria, South Africa, on Thursday accused of contravening anti-mercenary laws.