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Tension rises after Bemba told to remove guards

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©  Eddy Isango/IRIN

EU peacekeepers deployed close to the Supreme Court in Kinshasa, which was set alight during protests over alleged fraud in the presidential run-off

KINSHASA, 24 Nov 2006 (IRIN) - Residents of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, have largely remained indoors and fearful after President Joseph Kabila requested that his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba withdraw some of his personal guards from the city by Friday.

"There may be renewed confrontation if an attempt is made to disarm or move Bemba's guards by force," Olario Mandundu, a 34-year-old unemployed University of Kinshasa graduate, said on Thursday.

Irene Mongango, a market-stall owner, added, "From what I know of Bemba's guards, they are not going to take this lying down."

Residents have remained near their homes; those going to work or the market in the city have hurried home earlier than usual. Police and army units manned strategic locations in this city of about seven million as an army truck begun on Thursday to take Bemba's guards to his other stronghold at Maluku, 80 kms northeast of Kinshasa.

"It is the first truck but the movement will continue," Lt-Gen Kisempia Sungilanga, commander of the Congolese armed forces, said.

Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa, in charge of the government's Political Affairs and Defence Committee, said: "If such action would help restore peace in this city, it must be applied."

Bemba's spokesman, Moise Musangana, said the removal of some guards was merely "a routine rotation".

News agencies reported that Kabila had written to Bemba asking him to remove troublesome elements among his guards from the capital. This followed the partial burning of the Supreme Court and shooting on Tuesday between the police and Bemba's supporters. The riot halted a hearing into an allegation of electoral fraud filed by Bemba and his Union pour la Nation coalition.

"We cannot tolerate armed people in civilian clothes parading around town. We will not tolerate an insurrection," Admiral Liwanga Mata Nyamunobu, the Kinshasa City governor, said.

Liwanga and Interior Minister Denis Kalume had said recently that the army was ready to engage Bemba's guards if he failed to leave town or if they were found to have been involved in the Supreme Court fracas.

Liwanga said armed people in civilian clothes had shot at the police during the Supreme Court incident and asked that the United Nations mission in the DRC, MONUC, and the European Union forces help evacuate Bemba's guards. However, the spokesmen for MONUC and EUFOR, respectively lieutenant colonels Christian Lescoffit and Thierry Fusalba, said neither of these two organisations would disarm Bemba's men nor move them out of the city.

"There will not be a forced disarmament by the army but redeployment outside the city; because these guards are part of the Congolese army and as such cannot be disarmed," Fusalba said.

Bemba's guards have fought gun battles several times in Kinshasa with the army since the publication of the first round of presidential of the 30 July presidential polls. Twenty-three people were killed in the three days of fighting that ensued.

Bemba's aids say he has about 1,000 guards - versus Kabila's 15,000.

[DRC: Supreme Court to be relocated after fire]
[Countdown in Congo]

ie/oss/mw


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