- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE (AP) - A mob angered by rumors that health workers were spreading cholera has killed four people in northern Mozambique. And 12 suspects in the violence were killed later in what a prison official said Tuesday was a fight in jail.

A police statement Tuesday said 29 people had been detained for questioning in Saturday’s violence in the Quinga area of Nampula province. The prison official, Floriano Sumane, was quoted on state radio Tuesday as saying he had received information from police that 12 of the suspects died early Tuesday during violence inside the cell they shared.

Sumane denied reports the deaths were caused by the police opening fire on prisoners trying to escape. The general director of prisons, Joao Zandamela, told state radio a team had been dispatched from the provincial capital to find out more about the deaths in detention.

The bizarre chain of events began early Saturday, when a mob killed a Mozambican Red Cross volunteer, two government health workers and a policeman. Five other Red Cross workers were seriously injured. Authorities said rumors they were spreading the disease were false.

The Red Cross said 33 workers fled the area, of whom 16 were missing, presumably still hiding in the bush. Equipment was destroyed and a home belonging to a worker was set on fire, the Red Cross said.

The dead and injured were treating cholera victims and helping with prevention and education in the area, which has been hit by the waterborne disease.

In a statement, the Red Cross called on politicians, development groups, teachers and others to help prevent rumors by educating Mozambicans about how cholera is spread and how it can be prevented.

“We hereby express our deepest regret for what happened, and present our most sincere condolences to the bereaved families, as well as our solidarity to all the volunteers deployed in Quinga, particularly those who sustained injuries, hoping that they will recover soon,” the Red Cross statement added.

“These violent events do not encourage us to pursue our humanitarian work of alleviating human suffering and improving the living conditions of the most vulnerable communities.”

Cholera is spread by drinking contaminated water. It is easily treated, but can cause severe diarrhea and fatal dehydration.

Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries and is still struggling to rebuild its health and sanitation system after a long civil war. Cholera is fairly common, especially during the heavy rains of this time of year.

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