Madrid/Kinshasa - Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have kidnapped a Spanish doctor and shaved off all his body hair in the hope it will give them magic powers in battle, according to a Congolese government minister.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed on Saturday that Mario Zarza Manresa, a doctor who was travelling through the vast Central African nation, had been kidnapped.
Zarza Manresa was seized on April 1 while travelling down the Congo River on a boat that was overrun by rebels, who later attacked the capital of the northern Equateur province, leading to two days of fighting that killed dozens last week.
The DRC's information minister said late on Friday that Zarza Manresa had been "shaved completely by Ibrahim (a rebel leader) who believes in magical fetishes made with hair and body hair of whites".
Gunmen from the DRC's plethora of rebel and pro-government armed groups often adorn themselves with trinkets or traditional garments before heading into battle, in the belief that they will protect them from the bullets of the enemy.
Bullets into water
Some believe wearing fetishes will turn bullets into water.
The Spanish government could not confirm the reports of Zarza Manresa's shaving, but Felix Costales, the country's ambassador in Congo, told Spanish television that fishermen in the area had seen the hostage and he was well.
Zarza Manresa was in the DRC as a tourist and not for work.
The Enyele, the ethnic group that the rebels come from, has not previously had any gripe with Europeans, Costales said.
The incident took place 50km north of Mbandaka, the provincial capital that was attacked last weekend.
Government troops backed by UN peacekeepers eventually repelled the rebels but the clash marked the fighters apparently expanding their rebellion and underscores the DRC's simmering violence, four years after post-war elections.