Tuesday, March 27, 2007

President Joseph Kabila: Order in DRC Had to be Restored at 'Any Cost'

Tuesday March 27, 5:52 AM

Order in DRCongo had to be restored at 'any cost': Kabila


Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila on Monday defended the use of force to quash what he described as an armed rebellion by militia loyal to former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba.

"Order had to be restored at any cost," Kabila said after deadly clashes last week in the capital Kinshasa that left 155 dead and 150 seriously wounded, according to a new toll from aid agency Caritas.

In his first statement since the fighting, the 35-year-old said that Bemba's fighters had been intent on seizing control of the capital, and that the dispute was military rather than political.

"You do not guarantee security through negotiation," he told reporters, in an apparent response to calls from the United Nations, the African Union and various countries for dialogue.

About 2,000 troops had fought Bemba's 700 fighters in the Gombe district of the capital on Thursday and Friday.

Bemba, who lost the landmark presidential election in October to Kabila, had refused to have his vice-presidential bodyguard integrated into the regular army, arguing that his personal security could not be guaranteed.

The former rebel leader took refuge in the South African embassy in Kinshasa on Thursday.

Kabila accused him of trying to put himself above the law. "It was totally unacceptable ... and the law has put him in his place," he added.

But he refused to say what would happen to his former vice-president, saying that a "judicial procedure" had been launched.

The government on Friday said that Bemba was being charged with high treason. Most of his fighters have fled or agreed to join government forces, but 107 took refuge at the United Nations mission here, the UN said.

Bemba for his part said he was prepared to go into exile if his security could not be guaranteed by Kinshasa.

In an interview with the Paris daily Le Monde he accused Kabila of wanting to "get rid" of him.

"We are at a turning point in our history, because if they continue to decapitate the opposition, a new dictatorship will be established," he said.

But Kabila denied any intention of making DR Congo a one-party state.

"I would be the last person to violate the constitution. Setting up a single party smacks of high treason," he said.

The MLC on Monday condemned what they called "threats" against Bemba and called for "acts of intimidation and arbitrary arrests of certain members and militants of the MLC as well as of peaceful citizens to end."

The party said it was "necessary and urgent for a political solution to the crisis to be found in order to preserve the still fragile democratic process in the country."

Kabila also dismissed out of hand speculation that his military had had a helping hand from foreign troops to subdue the opposition after witnesses said they had seen soldiers wearing Angolan uniforms during the fighting.

The United States on Monday said it condemned the violence, calling on leaders to respect peaceful democratic processes.

"This violence represents a setback in the progress the Congolese people expect and deserve after last year's historic elections," US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement.

"The government will now have to show it can be responsible," a Western diplomat in Kinshasa said Sunday.

"If you are going to have a rule of law the opposition must be allowed to exist without being threatened or fearing a witch-hunt."

Kinshasa newspapers Monday welcomed the end of the conflict but expressed worries about the future of democracy in DR Congo, which last year saw its first democratic elections after decades of dictatorship, kleptocracy and war.

"We want peace, but this is not possible without everyone (working for it)," said Tshisuaka, an employee of a security company in Kinshasa.

"The important thing is to see people getting back on with things after such awful scenes," he said.

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