SA pledges to protect DRC's Bemba

The Democratic Repubic of Congo’s ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who has taken refuge in South Africa’s embassy in Kinshasa, can remain there for as long as he wants, the Pretoria government said on Tuesday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said Bemba, who sought refuge last week when the government of his rival President Joseph Kabila was about to issue him with a warrant for treason, had yet to reveal his long-term plans.

“Bemba is still taking refuge in South African property,” Pahad told reporters at a government briefing.

“He has not really indicated what his thinking is. He will remain until he sees it fit for him to leave ... South Africa is bound by international conventions to give him protection.”

Government troops fought fighters loyal to Bemba in the Gombe district of Kinshasa late last week in clashes that the European Union says may have claimed as many as 500 lives.

The forces unleashed their offensive after Bemba, runner-up to Kabila in last year’s presidential elections, refused to integrate his militia into the army.

In an interview with the French daily Le Monde after he took refuge, Bemba accused Kabila of wanting to “get rid” of him.

The DRC was the centre of a brutal five-year-long war from 1998.
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed and at its height, the conflict in the former Zaire drew in seven foreign armies.

South Africa has been a key player in the peace process and currently has about 2 000 troops serving in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the DRC. - Sapa-AFP

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