Congo's Kabila pledges unity government, pressures rebels


  • World
  • Thursday, 24 Oct 2013

KINSHASA (Reuters) - President Joseph Kabila said on Wednesday he would create a national unity government in an attempt to end years of crisis in Democratic Republic of Congo, a move cautiously welcomed by some rivals but which analysts warned could disrupt reform.

Kabila, presenting the findings of three weeks of national dialogue, ruled out a blanket amnesty for rebels operating in Congo's mineral-rich east and called for the insurgents to lay down their arms.

In a wide-ranging speech, he pledged to act on the more than 600 recommendations drafted by representatives of the government, opposition and civil society earlier this month.

"A government of national unity will be soon put in place," the 42-year-old leader, in power since 2001, said to cheers from his supporters in a rare public speech.

The new government's tasks would range from restoring peace and the authority of the state to organising the next presidential election, due in 2016, Kabila said.

Congo ranks bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index. Millions of people have died in the east from violence, disease and hunger since the 1990s as foreign-backed insurgent groups have waged a series of rebellions, often for control of the region's rich deposits of gold, diamonds and tin.

Thomas Luhaka, secretary-general of the opposition MLC party, welcomed Kabila's pledge to act on the recommendations.

"We've not yet been officially contacted about joining a government of national unity but we are satisfied with the direction of the president's speech," Luhaka said, adding that no decision on whether to join a government had been taken.

Kabila announced an amnesty for political prisoners and called on the new cabinet to review cases of Congolese nationals imprisoned at the International Criminal Court.

Among those facing trial at The Hague is Jean-Pierre Bemba, the MLC leader and Kabila's opponent in a 2006 election, who is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Jason Stearns, an analyst at the Rift Valley Institute, said a unity government could weaken governance and hinder progress made by technocrat Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo.

"This will contribute to the fragmentation of the opposition by co-opting a part of it into government," he said. "It undermines the checks and balances that parliamentary opposition provides, as well as the cohesion in government that has allowed Augustin Matata Ponyo to make reforms."

Matata Ponyo has been praised by donors for taming inflation and spurring economic growth despite the war in the east.

FRUSTRATION OVER REBEL TALKS

Some opposition parties - who dispute Kabila's 2011 re-election - boycotted the dialogues, accusing the president of wanting to change the constitution to seek a third term.

Among the recommendations of the dialogue were reform of the electoral commission ahead of the 2016 presidential vote.

"All of this must be seen in the light of upcoming battles over the electoral law and constitution," said Stearns.

Kabila voiced frustration that peace talks with the M23 rebel group hosted by neighbouring Uganda had stalled and warned the government would not wait indefinitely for a solution.

"We cannot continue to expose the lives of our compatriots to these blind attacks and abuses of all kinds," Kabila said, announcing the appointment of a special representative to combat sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers.

In a surprise move, Kabila also announced the repatriation of the remains of former President Mobutu Sese Seko, who Kabila's father toppled in 1997 in a Rwandan-backed rebellion.

(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by David Lewis and David Evans)

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