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DR Congo crisis deal ‘close but not before Christmas’

People protest in the neighbourhood of Yolo in Kinshasa on December 20, 2016 after the opposition leader called on citizens to reject President Joseph Kabila whose mandate expired on December 20 © AFP / Eduardo Soteras

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec 23 – A deal aimed at ending DR Congo’s political crisis caused by President Joseph Kabila’s clinging to power is close but will not be signed before Christmas, mediators said Friday.

“It is an illusion to think of a signature today”, but “we could reach a consensus during a plenary session this afternoon”, said a source in the Congo National Episcopal Conference (CENCO), ahead of talks between government and opposition scheduled for 2pm (1300 GMT).

The unstable, mineral-rich nation has been thrust into political turmoil by Kabila’s refusal to step down after his second and final five-year term, which officially ended on December 20.

At least 40 people have been killed during anti-Kabila protests around the Democratic Republic of Congo since Monday, the UN human rights office said in Geneva on Friday.

“Some 107 people have been injured or ill-treated and there have been at least 460 arrests,” it added.

DR Congo faces a political crisis © AFP / Sabrina BLANCHARD, Aude GENET

The influential Roman Catholic Church is brokering talks between political rivals in a bid to exit the crisis. Negotiators were on Thursday night in an optimistic mood, leaving legal experts to finalise the text of the deal based on a working document.

“It’s certain — we will finish tomorrow,” CENCO vice-president Fridolin Ambongo had said, while an opposition source told AFP: “We’ve got everything we could have wanted.”

Lumanu Mulenda, a negotiator on the government side, had said: “The president has made enough concessions, the deal will be signed tomorrow.”

But on Friday morning a source in CENCO, which is presiding over the negotiations, told AFP tersely: “There have been complications.”

Supporters of DR Congo President Joseph Kabila parade his photograph in Kinshasa in November 2006 © AFP/File / Lionel HEALING

A mediator subsequently told AFP that “the signature could now be between Christmas and the New Year”.

The working document for the deal, seen by AFP, envisages a “political transition” with delayed presidential elections to be held at the end of 2017.

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The vote was supposed to be organised this year, but as tensions rose the government maintained that it was impossible to stage an election before April 2018.

The deal also guarantees that Kabila will not seek a third mandate — as is banned under the constitution — and lays the groundwork for a “national transition council” charged with carrying out the agreement.

In return, the opposition headed by 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi, accepts that Kabila would stay in power until he hands over to an elected successor, having previously demanded an immediate departure from public life.

– Risk further conflict –

Kabila, 45, was a soldier placed in power by Kinshasa politicians when his father Laurent-Desire Kabila was assassinated in 2001 at the height of the Second Congo War, which ended two years later.

He was confirmed as leader of the vast nation of 70 million people in 2006 during the first free elections since independence from Belgium in 1960, then re-elected in 2011 in a vote marred by allegations of massive fraud.

The UN said those killed in clashes with security forces were “mainly” people protesting at Kabila’s refusal to step down.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement that the high casualty figures suggested DR Congo’s security forces had shown “a serious disregard” for the need for restraint.

“Violent repression of dissenting voices and a heavy-handed and irresponsible response to demonstrations risk provoking violence in return by demonstrators and possibly even tipping the constitutional crisis over the president’s future into further conflict across the country,” the rights chief said.

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Despite being constitutionally banned from seeking a third term, a controversial order by the constitutional court in May said Kabila could stay on until a successor was chosen.

DR Congo has never witnessed a democratic transfer of power following polls since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Two decades ago, the country collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history. Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragged in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead.

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