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Rebel Congo Ministers Refuse to Swear Allegiance to President Kabila


Ministers in the new Democratic Republic of Congo government from the two largest rebel groups have refused to take their oaths of office, spoiling a remarkable week in the country's effort to end five years of civil war that has claimed more than three million lives.

The swearing in of all ministers of the government was supposed to take place on Friday morning. But ministers nominated from largest rebel groups - the Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma, and Ugandan-backed MLC - refused to come to the ceremony, which went ahead without them.

Both rebel groups claim that the swearing in ceremony is unconstitutional, because ministers have already taken individual oaths for their new jobs. The rebels say Friday's ceremony was an attempt by President Joseph Kabila to force rebel ministers to take a personal oath of allegiance to him.

Rebel ministers say that under the political agreements finalized last April, ministers and vice ministers should only take oaths of allegiance to the Congolese state, not to any one politician.

Only the day before, rebel leaders Jean Pierre Bemba of the MLC and Azarias Ruberwa of RCD-Goma took their oaths of office as vice presidents in the new government, swearing their allegiance to the Congolese state.

Both leaders were conspicuously absent from Friday's ceremony, leaving civilian vice presidents Z'Ahidi Ngoma and Abdoulaye Yerodia to show their allegiance to the president.

RCD-Goma and MLC spokesmen say their ministers would still be attending the new government's first cabinet meeting planned for Saturday, although it is not clear whether the president will accept this if the rebel ministers do not take his oath.

Meanwhile on the streets of Kinshasa outside the presidential palace, celebrations continued unabated by the news of the dispute. Thousands of people carrying banners of President Kabila's new political party, PPRD, danced and chanted.

But with continuing violence in eastern Congo, the issue of integrating rebels into a unified national army, and problems of economic hardship, corruption and exploitation of the country's natural resources, the new government has a difficult task ahead, apparently made more difficult by this latest dispute.

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