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DRC Opposition Leader Awaits Approval for Medical Evacuation

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VOA News - April 1, 2007

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Congo troops sit on a tank in front of the house of ex-rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba in Kinshasa, Congo, 24 Mar 2007
Congo troops sit on a tank in front of the house of ex-rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba in Kinshasa, Congo, 24 Mar 2007
Portuguese authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo confirm an agreement has been reached to allow Congolese opposition leader Jean Pierre Bemba, wanted on charges of treason, to travel to Portugal for medical treatment. Bemba, who has been in the South African Embassy since fighting erupted between his guards and the army last month, is awaiting formal approval of the Congolese government. Kari Barber reports from Dakar that some worry Bemba's leaving the country could create a power vacancy in the nation.

A proposed deal reached between Bemba and Congolese and Portuguese authorities would allow Bemba to travel to Portugal for treatment of a fractured leg sustained months ago in a fall. According to Portuguese diplomats Bemba would not be allowed to participate in politics during his stay.

But there have been reports of disagreements in the Congolese government over whether to allow this to take place. Bemba is being charged with treason after his refusal to disarm his private militia led to two days of fighting that left scores of people dead.

Congolese human rights activist Rostin Manketa says he wants the government to permit Bemba to leave, but hopes he will come back.

"It is good for him to go abroad and have medical treatment," said Manketa. "This is a humanitarian case I think. Maybe the government is afraid of his going abroad. Maybe they do not know what he could try to plan and so on."

Portuguese authorities have said they will not be offering Bemba asylum, but only a short medical stay.

Democratic Republic of Congo anlayst, Muzong Kodi, with London-based Chatham House says he worries that the government will take advantage of Bemba's absence to cripple the opposition.

"It is going to mark the end of the opposition that everybody hoped would develop and play a positive role in monitoring the government's activities," said Kodi.

President Joseph Kabila defeated Bemba in the presidential race last year and tensions have been high since.

Congolese government troops ransacked the offices of Bemba's party on Thursday according to reports. Television and radio stations owned by Bemba were housed in the facility.

Kodi says he fears this is the end of hopes that Mr. Kabila and Bemba, a senator, could come to terms with sharing power and working in a government together.

"After all of this it is very difficult to imagine that Mr. Kabila and Mr. Bemba would be able to sit at the table and discuss any matters," he added.

The fighting in March was the most violence the capital, Kinshasa, has seen since battles between Mr. Kabila's and Bemba's militias during the presidential elections last year.


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