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New Congo Cabinet Meeting Postponed Following Swearing-in Dispute - 2003-07-19

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first cabinet meeting of the new government of national reconciliation was postponed, after ministers from two former rebel groups refused to swear allegiance to President Joseph Kabila. The boycott came only a day after the rebel leaders had been sworn in as vice presidents.

All members of the new cabinet had individually taken their oaths of office. But a formal ceremony called for them to pledge allegiance to President Kabila was thrown into chaos, when ministers from the two largest former rebel groups did not show up.

They objected to the ceremony, which was arranged only on Wednesday, and which demanded they swear an oath of allegiance directly to the president, rather than to the Congolese state.

The leaders of both former rebel movements had been sworn in as vice presidents only the day before. They pledged alliance to the Congolese state, not to President Kabila personally.

Saturday's first cabinet meeting was postponed, pending a review by a transitional committee to set a new swearing-in ceremony acceptable to the RCD-Goma rebel group, backed by Rwanda, and the MLC, backed by Uganda.

The swearing in of the vice presidents was seen as the crowning glory of the new government, and was hailed as a diplomatic victory. Leaders of the MLC and RCD-Goma were to be two of four vice presidents, the others to be nominated by the Kinshasa government and the civilian opposition.

But the first crack in the new government appeared with the oath-taking dispute.

Ministers selected from the former government, smaller rebel groups and the civilian opposition went ahead with their swearing-in ceremony.

War in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998 has claimed more than three million lives. Both Uganda and Rwanda have supported various rebel movements and armed groups in their bid to dominate the mineral-rich east of the country.