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South African president in talks with Congolese political leaders

KINSHASA , 13 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - South African President Thabo Mbeki has held talks with key political leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo in a bid to lessen tension within its government and save the democratic transitional process from collapse.

Mkebi arrived in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, on Wednesday for meetings with President Joseph Kabila and his four vice-presidents. One vice-president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, has threatened to pull his movement out of the country's transitional institutions if by 31 January preconditions for elections are not met.

"In that case [...] we will withdraw from the transition and will leave the country to those who supposedly want to run it in their way, and we will call on the public to assume its responsibilities," Bemba said an hour after his meeting with Mbeki.

Bemba heads the Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo, one of the main former rebels groups now represented in the transitional government. Some of the preconditions to which he referred come under the South-African sponsored all-inclusive accord signed in December 2002 by Congo's belligerents, unarmed political groups and civil society. The cornerstone of the accord is for power-sharing within the current transitional government and its institutions, including the diplomatic corps, the police, secret and other security services.

Bemba, and another former rebel movement, the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democrtaie (RCD), have accused President Kabila and his family of blocking this process.

The delays are threatening the elections due by 30 June. The president of the Independent Electoral Commission, Apollinaire Malu Malu, announced on Friday that elections might have to be pushed back, although they would still be held this year. His announcement led to a demonstration in Kinshasa on Monday in which four people were killed and several others injured.

Another of the vice-presidents who met Mbeki, RCD leader Azarias Ruberwa, told reporters after that meeting that he, Ruberwa, also wanted the move towards elections speeded up but that he would ask Bemba to stay in the government to help the process along. Ruberwa said five months ago he had echoed concerns similarly to those of Bemba's but to no avail.

The two other vice-presidents who met Mbeki are Abdoulaye Yerodia and Arthur Z'Aidi Ngoma. Yerodia accused the former rebel movements, the political opposition and the supporters of the late President Mobutu Sese Seko of being behind Congo's current problem.

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