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Church-mediated talks resume in DR Congo

December 22, 2016

Catholic Church-mediated talks have resumed in the DR Congo. Mediators are urging President Joseph Kabila and opposition parties to find an agreement before Christmas to settle the crisis, as street violence goes on.

Kongo Kinshasa CENCO Bischöfe, Fidele Nsielele & Marcel Utembi & Fridolin Ambongo
Image: Reuters/T. Mukoya

Dozens of people have already have been killed this week amid protests over the president's stay in power.

Kabila's tenure officially ended on Monday and he is constitutionally barred from seeking another term. However, a court ruled that he can remain in power until new elections, which had been set for November, but the ruling party now says won't be held until 2018.

"Our wish is to end before Christmas," said Episcopal Conference (CENCO) chairman Monsignor Marcel Utembi (pictured center above). "If the political and civil society actors do not reach a compromise by then [...] CENCO will draw the consequences."

"Enough is enough," he went on.

"A solution must be found as soon as possible by all political actors, but in particular by the government in order to reassure the Congolese people," he added.

Utembi also conveyed a message from Pope Francis: "I am concerned by what is happening in your country, which I wish to visit at the opportune moment. I pray for the Congolese people, who need peace so much now."

Initial talks - headed by the CENCO - broke up at the weekend. The call by the bishops sponsoring the talks came after protests erupted over Kabila's refusal to step down at the end of his mandate.


Demokratische Republik Kongo Joseph Kabila in Bata
President Joseph KabilaImage: Getty Images/AFP/C. De Souza

Political impasse

The mainstream opposition has been calling for "peaceful resistance" from the Congo's 70 million people, but after the new government was announced overnight on Monday headed by Samy Badibanga, some voices were calling for more direct action.

The main opposition bloc headed by 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi has rejected the plan. It wants elections next year and a pledge that Kabila will not stand.

The new cabinet is part of an October deal between the ruling party and fringe opposition groups enabling Kabila to remain in office until elections in April 2018.

There was a heavy military and police presence in the capital, Kinshasa, on Wednesday with the remains of barricades littering the streets after protesters burned the headquarters of the ruling party.

Police said the heavy security presence will be maintained until the end of the holiday season.

No common ground

Finding common ground between the ruling majority and the opposition coalition will be difficult, as the ruling party insists that Kabila stay in power until the elections and the opposition saying it does not recognize his authority.

"We are trying to negotiate, but meanwhile Kabila is killing people. What we'll negotiate is the departure of Kabila from power, that's it," said Jean-Marc Kabund-a-Kabund, the secretary-general of the UDPS, the main opposition party.

DR Kongo Unruhe vor Präsidentschaftsende von Joseph Kabila
A police truck in Kinshasa Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Bompengo

Death toll varies

Human Rights Watch said security forces had killed 26 people, while the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo said it had documented 19 people shot to death, 45 wounded and a "very high number" of arrests in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Matadi and Goma.

The government said nine people had been killed in the capital: a police officer, two women hit by stray bullets and six men killed in looting. The national police spokesman, Col. Pierrot Mwanamputu, said eight others died in Lubumbashi, three in Matadi and two in Boma.

Mwanamputu also said 275 people had been detained since Kabila's mandate ended.

International reactions

Germany said on Wednesday it had indefinitely postponed talks on development assistance to the DRC after Kabila decided to stay in power, the German foreign office said. 

"From now on, the Congolese Government's scope for action will be restricted," the statement said. "The negotiations on development cooperation scheduled to take place next year will be postponed indefinitely. The German Government reserves the right to take further steps."

The US, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that it was "greatly disappointed by President Kabila's failure to organize elections and to state publicly that he will not run again." State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the US condemned the latest violence and urged all sides to participate in Wednesday's talks "fully and in good faith."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged the government and opposition to work constructively to reach a deal.

The head of the UN mission in Congo, Maman S. Sidikou, has also called on authorities to end what he called "politically motivated detentions" and asked that the UN be granted full access to detention centers.

DRC has never witnessed a democratic transfer of power following polls since independence from Belgium in 1960.

jbh/jm (AFP, AP)