May 25, 1997 in Nation/World

Congo Elections Pledged, But Mixed Signals Reign Kabila Draws 2-Year Timeline; Aide Says That’s ‘Not Exactly Right’

Associated Press

Congo’s new leader said Saturday that elections will be held within two years, but his chief of staff immediately suggested the timeline was not firm.

The confusion underscored the mixed signals coming from Laurent Kabila and his aides since rebel forces took Kinshasa last weekend, driving out despot Mobutu Sese Seko and assuming leadership of the country formerly known as Zaire.

Visiting a hospital in his first public appearance in the capital since assuming power, Kabila told CNN that elections would come after a two-year transition period.

But within minutes, his chief of staff, Moise Nyarugabo, was backtracking. “That’s not wrong, but it’s not exactly right,” he said.

The mixed signals were typical of a week in which Kabila’s alliance asked members of Congo’s other important political coalition to join his government but rejected its leader, and allowed protesters to march freely on Friday, then arrested them Saturday.

Even those closest to Kabila seem unclear about his intentions: On Tuesday, his finance minister, Mwana Nanga Mawampanga, said Kabila was still committed to elections in 12 months. It was the first anyone heard of that deadline.

Complicating Kabila’s transformation from rebel leader to political leader was the second straight day of demonstrations by supporters of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

Troops loyal to Kabila broke up the protests, taking away their placards and detaining several people.

The several hundred protesters, angry that Tshisekedi has been denied a role in Congo’s new government, chanted, “Kabila, assassin.”

Soldiers allowed a smaller pro-Kabila demonstration to proceed.

Another ominous sign for the opposition was the troops’ insistence that journalists covering the event hand over film and tape.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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