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DRC Authorities Issue Warrant for Opposition Leader Bemba


Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have issued a warrant for the arrest of top opposition leader and former vice president Jean Pierre Bemba. Bemba took refuge late Thursday in the South Africa Embassy while his personal militia continued to clash with Congolese army in deadly skirmishes in the capital. Kari Barber reports from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

The Congolese government said unrest in the capital constitutes a rebellion and has issued a warrant for Bemba's arrest accusing him of treason.

Violence broke out days ago after Bemba, who came in second in the presidential elections last year, refused to disarm his private security force. Integrating his guards into national troops was part of a pre-election agreement with elected President Joseph Kabila.

Gun fire and mortars shook the streets of Kinshasa Friday morning as fighting continued between the army and Bemba's militia.

Local journalist Eddie Isango said the capital, Kinshasa, was deserted Friday as people hid in their homes.

Isango says businesses, homes and government buildings have been damaged in the fighting. The country's oil reserves are also said to have been bombed.

London-based Congolese analyst Muzong Kodi says officials are not likely to back down from their aim of charging Bemba.

"As the government has issued an arrest warrant, they would like to go through with it and finish with Mr. Bemba," he said. "I am afraid we are going to see a start of a very difficult period in the DRC now."

Kodi says bad relations between Bemba, who is currently a senator, and President Kabila go back a long way, but have been deteriorating rapidly since they ran against each other for the presidency.

"They have had very difficult relations throughout the transition period that started in 2003.," Kodi said. "They have been very bitter enemies even though they work in the same government. But things have gotten worse since the presidential elections which Mr. Bemba lost, but never really accepted."

Kodi says this wave of violence is very disappointing for Congolese people who had hoped the new elections would put conflict behind them after years of war.

South Africa has said they are sending a special envoy to negotiate a ceasefire and to asses the security situation around their Embassy, where Bemba took refuge.

The United Nations is also calling for an immediate ceasefire. Peacekeepers used armored cars to evacuate hundreds of civilians from areas of fighting.

Last year dozens were killed in fighting between Bemba's guard and Mr. Kabila's troops during the elections and immediate aftermath.

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