Norwegians tried to escape DR Congo prison: jail chief

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Two Norwegians sentenced to death last year for murder and spying in the Democratic Republic of Congo tried to escape from jail, a prison official told AFP Monday, but their lawyer denied the claim.

Late on August 23, Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland, both former Norwegian soldiers, "made a whole in the wall near the roof of their cell in an effort to escape," said Kudura Ramazani, director of the prison in Kisangani, the capital of the northeastern Orientale province.

"If the soldiers and police who make the rounds of the cells had not surprised them, they would have gone," he added.

However their lawyer Guillaume Likwela cast doubt on the prison chief's version of events.

"We found a path near the ceiling in their room, and if they could have used that to escape, they would have already left," he told AFP.

The two were first sentenced to death in 2009, convicted of having killed the driver of the car they had rented in May of that year, but they insisted the driver was killed by bandits.

They had come to the mineral-rich Orientale province either as tourists or on business, depending on varying reports.

The verdict was annulled in April 2010 by the high military court in the capital Kinshasa for irregularities and new judges were sent in for the retrial.

The two were then retried and convicted in June 2010 of spying, criminal association, murder and attempted murder.

Shortly after their conviction Moland, 30, and French, 29, who also has British nationality, wrote to Congolese President Joseph Kabila to ask for a pardon or for their death sentence to be commuted to a life imprisonment that could eventually be served in Norway.

Norway's foreign ministry said last year it was prepared to negotiate a transfer.

DR Congo has not carried out a death sentence since Kabila came to power in 2001, but has commuted such penalties to life imprisonment.

© 2011 AFP

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