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Congo's Bemba Leaves For Portugal While Supporters Feel Persecuted

VOA News - April 11, 2007

The former rebel and current opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, has left for Portugal after seeking refuge for several weeks at the South African embassy in Kinshasa, while his supporters say they still feel persecuted. This follows deadly violence in March between Bemba's guard and Congo's post-war security forces. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from our regional bureau, with additional reporting by Eddy Isango in Kinshasa.

Jean-Pierre Bemba
Jean-Pierre Bemba (file photo)
Bemba left Kinshasa with his wife and children aboard his own Boeing 727 in the middle of the night, after being escorted by U.N peacekeeping troops.

The official reason is to heal a recently fractured leg.

Bemba has pledged not to conduct any political activity from outside the Democratic Republic of Congo. He finished second in last year's presidential poll, doing very well in the west and Kinshasa, and won a seat in the Senate in January.

The Senate president granted him medical leave, assuring that he will not lose his seat.

His party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, remains active in politics, as its lawmakers recently won the presidency in two of seven commissions in the newly formed assembly.

But it has complained of what it calls a "climate of terror" since fire fights broke out against Bemba's large private guard, on March 22, leaving dozens dead in the streets of Kinshasa.

A Bemba spokesman, Moise Musangana, tells VOA party supporters, including elected officials, are being harassed, their homes looted or searched, and some of them arrested.

He also says party headquarters are under occupation of the presidential guard and that television and radio stations owned by Bemba have been ransacked.

Musangana says contacts have been made with the government to appease the situation.

But he says despite promises, the persecution continues. He says the DRC is no longer a state that respects basic rights.

President Joseph Kabila, the son of a former slain leader who was first installed in power by the military before winning disputed elections, has said the time of recess is over in the DRC, and that the time of law and order has started.

His allies said Bemba's guards were trying to stage a coup, and that they refused to disarm and reintegrate into the army within a set deadline.

Bemba said they were under attack, and that he needed his guards to ensure his security, so that he was not assassinated.

Whenever he returns to Kinshasa, Bemba still faces the possibility of being tried for maintaining a militia, despite a return to peace. He has also been accused of leading fighters who committed atrocities both in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Central African Republic.

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