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Growing Tension In DRC As Elections Approach - 2004-03-11

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, supporters of a former rebel leader say he may have been the target of an assassination attempt. The incident reportedly occurred during a meeting with a group of women who accused the former rebel leader's group of mass rapes during Congo's civil war. Tensions appear to be mounting as the country moves toward elections.

The leader of the former-rebel group, R-C-D-Goma, faced heckles and boos from some in his audience of women's rights groups in Kinshasa's parliamentary building on Monday.

Many of the women in the audience cursed the official, Azarias Ruberwa, who is now a vice-president of the transitional government. The women accused his group of perpetrating mass rapes in rebel-held territory during the war. The protest came primarily from women who belong to political parties close to President Joseph Kabila.

In the midst of the protest, top officials in the audience, including the inspector general of police, the governor of Kinshasa, and the Minister of Interior all walked out, leaving Mr. Ruberwa alone on stage. He fled out a back door.

Officials of his party, R-C-D-Goma, say Mr. Ruberwa fled because security officers spotted three people in the crowd, dressed in women's clothes, hiding pistols. The secretary general of RCD-Goma, Francis Bedy Makhubu Mabele, says two of them were able to escape, but the third was captured and handed over to the police for investigation.

Senior police officials deny that they have received any suspect from R-C-D-Goma, and the party has not said whether the person they claim to have captured was a man or a woman.

The incident highlights swelling suspicions within the country's power-sharing government, which was formed in July of last year, officially ending a five-year war that had claimed more than three-million lives.

Political tensions have been high in recent weeks, following a series of clashes in Congo's lawless east between government loyalists and hard-liners of R-C-D-Goma. The recent arrest of an R-C-D-Goma officer in the eastern town of Bukavu prompted the group to threaten to pull out of the government.

Analysts say the tension is related in part to the transitional government's preparations for the nomination of provincial governors, a highly controversial process that is expected to have a significant impact on the results of the national elections, if they can be held next year as planned.