How misidentification as M23 rebel nearly cost Kenyan marathoner his life in DRC

How misidentification as M23 rebel nearly cost Kenyan marathoner his life in DRC

Festus Chuma 14:48 - 16.06.2024

A Kenyan marathoner was wrongly detained and accused of being an M23 rebel while attending a marathon in the DRC.

Three weeks ago, Kenyan marathoner Kennedy Kiptoo Lilan found himself ensnared in a harrowing saga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) falsely accused of being a rebel fighter.

The 37-year-old distressing experience unfolded when DRC soldiers arrested him, draped him in military attire, and interrogated him under the false suspicion of affiliating with the M23 rebel group.

Lilan, who has triumphed in multiple international marathons since 2011, found himself in a nightmare scenario shortly after he arrived in Kinshasa to take part in a local marathon that was set for June 2.

"Just as I sat down to eat, heavily armed soldiers swarmed in, speaking a language I didn't understand," Lilan recounted as per Nation.

The situation escalated rapidly when the soldiers without any substantiation accused him of being a covert rebel fighter.

"They wanted me to admit I was with the M23, but I refused," Lilan stated.

Despite his attempts to clarify that he was in the country solely for the marathon, the soldiers detained him and transported him to a military camp.

During his captivity, Lilan endured extensive interrogation and was forced into a military uniform ostensibly to substantiate the false claims against him.

The Uasin Gishu-born athlete was filmed and his identity documents were broadcast online, branding him a foreign militant.

The ordeal did not end at the military camp as he claimed to have been robbed of significant sums of money and personal items.

"They took $500 and Sh30,000, among other things. Only some of the money was returned by their commander," he recalled in a separate interview.

Despite the psychological and physical torment, Lilan participated in the marathon the following day, registering a winning time of 2:22:49.3.

The ordeal ended with the athletes being escorted to the airport, but the trauma of the experience remains.

"It seemed like a plot to keep me from running. They knew who I was but still put me through this," Lilan expressed, bewildered by the motives behind his detention.

Currently back in Kenya Lilan has been in contact with a Foreign Affairs ministry official but is still waiting for further assistance to resolve the issue and clear his name officially.

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