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Police still holding 432 "vagrants" in poor conditions

KINSHASA, 10 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Some 432 people, among them scores of children, arrested as vagrants by police on Friday in Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo, are still being held under harsh conditions, their parents said.

"They received one meal on Friday and since it has been hard to get the police to allow me to bring food for my son," Marie Ngoy, one of the 50 angry women whose children are under arrest, said.

However, the police said they were being fed twice a day: porridge in the morning and beans in the evening. There is also one tap for them to wash. They are all being held in a compound where they sleep on the concrete floor.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi said the police had been ordered to arrest all vagrants around the city's main market, in order to halt the growing crime rate in the area.

"It is a preventive measure because if there is no security in a place frequented by so many people, the situation could become a time bomb," he said.

Some 200,000 shoppers visit the market each day, he said.

Angry parents, who gathered near the police station, said not all the children being held there were delinquents and thieves. Ngoy said her son had gone to shop in the market when police arrested him as a street child, or "Sheghe" as they are known in the city.

The official in charge of special investigations in the UN Mission in the DRC?s Human Rights Section, Sonia Baker, said 75 of the detainees were younger than 18 years and another 28 are women. MONUC?s right section has condemned the unsanitary conditions under which the detainees are being held and that they have been in detention beyond the 48 hours allowed by law.

"We know that persons under preventive detention must be brought before a judge no later that 48 hours and should be charged with precise crimes, which has not occurred with these detainees," Bakar said.

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