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Former VP Bemba Expected to Leave DRC

VOA News | Published on March 29, 2007

Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Jean Pierre Bemba has talked about leaving the country, and recent reports say he could soon be flown to Portugal for health care.  Bemba is in the South African Embassy in the capital Kinshasa, where he sought refuge when fighting broke out between his militia and Congolese army forces last week.  Kari Barber has more from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Jean-Pierre Bemba
Jean-Pierre Bemba
While Congolese wait to learn whether former Vice President Bemba will be leaving the country, some analysts are expressing concern that Bemba's departure could hinder the development of a healthy political system, one that tolerates criticism and opposition.

Local journalist Eddy Isango says members of Bemba's party have confirmed they are negotiating for Bemba to leave the country.

Isango says Bemba may be looking for special permission to seek care in Portugal for an injury he suffered when he fell down stairs last winter.  Isango says without a special visa issued by the Red Cross or another similar organization it is unlikely the government would allow Bemba to leave.

An arrest warrant was issued Friday for Bemba, accusing him of treason after his refusal to dissolve his militia and integrate it into the national forces, which led to two days of deadly clashes between the militia and the army in the capital.

Many of Bemba's guard are now said to have handed themselves over to be integrated into the army.

Joseph Kabila holds press conference in Kinshasa, 26 Mar. 2007
Joseph Kabila holds press conference in Kinshasa, 26 Mar 2007
Bemba's leaving the country may be the best way to resolve the issues between Bemba and President Joseph Kabila, who defeated Bemba in the presidential elections last year, but analyst Muzong Kodi, who is with London-based think tank Chatham House, says it may not be the best for political growth of the DRC.

"This is no resolution at all," he said.  "It may mark the beginning of the end of the opposition.  There is no single individual in the opposition today that has the charisma of Mr. Bemba to lead the opposition."

Kodi says a vibrant opposition is necessary for the healthy development of the nation as a democracy.

He says he worries that some in Mr. Kabila's party would take advantage of the opposition's lack of leadership to weaken it as a political force.

Kodi says that Mr. Kabila and the international community will need to make a special effort to guarantee that all freedoms and rights are respected.

"So the future really depends on how much the international community puts pressure on President Kabila to give some room to the opposition and to uphold the freedom of expression that is enshrined in the constitution of the country," he added.

Earlier this week, European Union ambassadors condemned what they said was an excessive use of government power during the two days of fighting and called on Mr. Kabila's government to work to assure democracy and freedom of expression.

Michel Nourredine Kassa works with politicians and leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo to establish dialogue and encourage ideas of power sharing.  He says the idea of power sharing has been difficult for the politicians to accept.

"I think what has been plaguing the whole peace process in this country is some kind of a zero-sum gain logic," he explained.  "Whereby if I win, I need to win totally and you need to lose totally."

Kassa says he has not given up hope that dialogue could bring the two parties together to work peacefully.

As a senator, Bemba is entitled to immunity from the charges against him, unless the parliament chooses to lift the immunity.

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