african news

OSLO - Norway will send police officers to the Democratic Republic of Congo to attend the autopsy of a Norwegian who died mysteriously in a Kinshasa prison, the government said on Tuesday.

Joshua French, a friend and cellmate of Tjostolv Moland who was found dead in his cell on Sunday morning, meanwhile told a Norwegian newspaper that Congolese authorities were investigating him as a suspect in the death.

"We have been asked to be present at the autopsy," Norway's foreign ministry spokesman Frode Andersen said.

"A team from the criminal police will leave as soon as possible," he added.

The date of the autopsy has not been disclosed.

Moland, 32, and his friend French, 31, who has dual Norwegian-British nationality, were arrested in DR Congo in 2009 and sentenced to death in June 2010 after being convicted of killing the Congolese driver of a car they had rented.

The men, both former soldiers, denied the charge and said the driver was killed by bandits. They said they had come to DR Congo to set up a security firm.

Shortly after their conviction Moland and French wrote to DR Congo President Joseph Kabila to ask for a pardon or for their death sentences to be commuted to a prison sentence that could eventually be served in Norway.

Moland's father has lashed out at the Norwegian government on his blog, saying it had not done enough to obtain his son's return to Norway.

Oslo has said it tried repeatedly to obtain his transfer but was met with silence from Congolese authorities.

French meanwhile told Norwegian daily Verdens Gang (VG) that he had been questioned three times so far by Congolese authorities.

"It's clear that I'm being investigated. There were two men locked in a cell and one of them is dead. It's natural that there be an investigation," he told VG.

"It's an absurd accusation," he later told national broadcaster TV2. French's lawyer, Hans Marius Graasvold, said he feared French was being considered a "possible suspect."

"From articles in the local media, we can see that the spotlight is being put on him. It looks a lot like he's a suspect," Graasvold told AFP.

Moland's parents meanwhile excluded the possibility that French killed their son, with Moland's father calling the hypothesis "totally absurd" in an interview with TV2.

No executions have been carried out in DR Congo since Kabila came to power in 2001, and death sentences have regularly been commuted to life imprisonment.

Penal facilities in the vast country date from Belgian colonial times and are decrepit and overcrowded. Inmates are exposed to disease, dehydration and starvation. Rights groups report that prisoners can die of hunger or torture.