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Congo's Foreign Minister Sacked - 2004-07-23


Congo's foreign minister was sacked Thursday evening by his political party, a former rebel group, for what it called "a series of diplomatic failings." The press, analysts and diplomats are speculating that the minister's close relationship with the president and intervention by Uganda's president may have played a part.

When President Joseph Kabila's spokesman read out a decree on state television Thursday evening, announcing a change at the head of the Foreign Ministry, several weeks of rumors, speculation and even a couple of protests came to an end.

Foreign Minister Antoine Ghonda has been replaced by Raymond Ramazani Baya, a close aid to Jean Pierre Bemba, the head of Congo's Liberation Movement, a former rebel group known by its French acronym, M.L.C, which has joined Congo's transitional government.

In a statement issued soon after the presidential decree, the party said Mr. Ghonda was being replaced, following a series of diplomatic failings, which included sloppy running of the country's embassies abroad, confusion in the management of passports and poor performance of the ministry's staff.

But the party, which is guaranteed the Foreign Ministry portfolio under a peace deal signed in 2002 to end Congo's five-year war, was sensitive to the speculation over the sacking.

It said it was shocked by the stir the so-called Ghonda Affair had caused in the media, and it reassured the press that the M.L.C had taken the decision independently, and with nothing but the best interests of Congo in mind.

This reaction is a result of several weeks of speculation in Kinshasa's media and political rumor mill that Mr. Ghonda's dismissal had been called for by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, M.L.C's main supporter during Congo's war.

Mr. Museveni was said to have been upset by Mr. Ghonda's resistance to greater Ugandan involvement in various parts of the Congolese peace process, in particular a joint border verification mission with Rwanda, and wanted the minister to be sacked.

The government in Kinshasa is struggling to reassert its authority, following a war that involved six neighboring countries and killed three-million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

Diplomats and analysts say that the sacking suggests that Mr. Museveni still carries considerable weight within the party. But they stress that Mr. Bemba has wanted to see the foreign minister gone for some time, and Mr. Ghonda's close working relationship with President Kabila may also have contributed to his downfall.

They say that Mr. Ghonda had been doing a good job since being one of the first former rebels to arrive in Kinshasa and begin working toward unifying a country that has been torn apart by years of war and dictatorship.

Congo's transitional government is due to lead the country to elections in July of next year. But it remains deeply divided, and, already this year, has been rocked by two coup attempts in Kinshasa and a continuing armed uprising in the east.

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