DR Congo crisis talks suspended, hopes for deal by year end

December 24, 2016 7:22 pm
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DR Congo President Joseph Kabila’s second and final term ended December 20, but he has shown no intention of leaving, sparking protests that have left at least 40 dead © AFP/File / LIONEL HEALING

, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec 24 – Talks to end DR Congo’s dangerous political crisis were suspended on Saturday until after Christmas after a fruitless 48 hours of negotiations over President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to quit power.

Kabila’s second and final five-year term ended on December 20, but he has shown no intention of leaving office soon, sparking violent protests that have left at least 40 people dead, according to the United Nations.

The informal talks, mediated by the influential Catholic Church since December 8, are now expected to resume after a Christmas break with hopes of a deal by December 30.

“We think that Friday will be the day… during which an agreement will be adopted and signed,” said Marcel Utembi, president of the Congo National Episcopal Conference (CENCO), who had pushed for a deal before Christmas.

The talks between the government and opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo had raised hopes this week of an imminent deal, with a draft seen by AFP outlining plans for fresh elections at the end of next year, when Kabila would step down.

But that optimism has been slipping, and negotiators from the two camps left church offices in Kinshasa just before 5:30 am (0430 GMT) without a deal to prevent a fresh descent into conflict in a country that has suffered two horrific wars since 1996.

A man is arrested by a member of the military police after people attempted to block a road with rocks in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, on December 19, 2016 © AFP/File / Griff Tapper

After an all-night discussion “we reached the end of the tunnel,” said Utembi, the archbishop of Kinshasa, who also stressed that “95 percent of the differences over the management of the transitional period have been ironed out.”

But others indicated there was still a long way to go.

“Everything is still blocked on how (public affairs) will be managed during the transition period,” said opposition delegate Francois Muamba.

– ‘Serious mediocrity’ –

A frustrated CENCO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had blasted DR Congo’s political class for “serious mediocrity” in their inability to reach a deal during the marathon talks.

“They have called into question everything we arranged the day before,” the official said.

Tensions are running high, with security forces spraying live ammunition at a string of anti-Kabila protests in Kinshasa and other towns this week, killing at least 40 civilians, according to the UN.

Congolese police put the toll at 20 dead, saying they had largely been killed in “looting” or by “stray bullets”.

Other sources say somewhere between 56 and 125 people have been killed in a week of clashes, not counting the unknown toll from fighting between security forces and an anti-government militia in the central town of Kananga.

People gather to protest President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to quit power in the neighbourhood of Yolo in Kinshasa on December 20, 2016 © AFP/File / Eduardo Soteras

Kabila, 45, has been in power since the 2001 assassination of his father Laurent at the height of the Second Congo War.

He was confirmed as leader of the mineral-rich nation in 2006 during the first free elections since independence from Belgium in 1960, and re-elected for a second term in 2011 in a vote marred by allegations of massive fraud.

Constitutionally banned from seeking a third term, he obtained a controversial court ruling in May stating that he could remain in power until a successor was chosen.

DR Congo has never seen 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 pulled in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead.

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