Congo ex-rebel Bemba calls for anti-Kabila front

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Former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has made a last-minute bid from jail to shape the outcome of Monday’s election in Congo, urging the opposition to unite behind a single candidate against President Joseph Kabila.

Bemba, runner-up in the 2006 election, is prevented from standing this time because he is on trial for war crimes at the Internatonal Criminal Court in the Hague. But his MLC party is the biggest opposition group in parliament and he still has strong grassroots support in the vast central African country.
“I call on all the opposition candidates to assume their responsibilities and organise a united front, around a single candidate, to guarantee an alternative to the current regime,” Bemba wrote in a letter released by his party, Reuters reports.
“It is not too late to save the country,” he added in the letter, read out on television late on Wednesday.

Bemba praised the country’s three leading opposition candidates – Etienne Tshisekedi, Vital Kamerhe and Leon Kengo wa Dondo – without giving exclusive backing to any of them, making the impact of his appeal hard to predict.

Bemba was narrowly beaten by Kabila in a second-round runoff in 2006, in polls that were marred by clashes between heavily armed supporters of the two sides. Hundreds of people were killed in the capital Kinshasa.

He was arrested in 2008 in Belgium on an ICC arrest warrant for alleged crimes committed by his rebels in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002.

A separate reminder of Congo’s still troubled security situation came on Thursday as the army said a rebel commander accused of being involved in the mass rape of nearly 400 people last year in eastern Congo handed himself in.

Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, known as “Mai Mai Sheka” gave himself up to the army for his own protection following violent clashes with another rebel group, the FDLR, earlier this week, according to army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sylvain Ekenge.

DELAYS?

Repeated attempts by Kabila’s opponents to find a common platform in the run-up to Monday’s vote have failed, despite most analysts saying a failure to unite would hand victory to the 40-year-old incumbent.

Kabila will not face a run-off this time because he signed off on constitutional reforms earlier this year scrapping the second round, meaning he can win without an absolute majority.

Tshisekedi is widely seen as Kabila’s toughest challenger despite a delayed campaign and concerns over the 78-year-old’s health, which his allies have played down.

The run-up to the polls has been marred by accusations of fraud and concerns over logistical delays, with thousands of tonnes of ballot papers yet to be delivered to more than 62,000 polling stations in a country with virtually no roads.

Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, head of national election commission CENI, told French radio RFI on Thursday that barring adverse weather or other unforeseen problems, the elections would go ahead on time.

Asked about the chances of a delay, he replied: “Not if we have anything to do with it, not for any technical reasons or due to the level of preparedness.”



Mulunda, who will have the deciding vote if his commission is split on any election dispute, said he did not deny that he had in the past been a member of the delegation that accompanies Kabila on foreign trips, but said he was firmly neutral.
“I speak to everyone,” he said. “I am independent.”