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DRC Official Denies Government Persecution of Opposition Leader

FILE - Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Moise Katumbi Chapwe, is pictured during an interview, June 2, 2015 in Lubumbashi.
FILE - Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Moise Katumbi Chapwe, is pictured during an interview, June 2, 2015 in Lubumbashi.

A senior adviser to the Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila is denying reports the administration in Kinshasa has launched a witch hunt against opposition leader Moise Katumbi Chapwe, an international businessman who plans to contest a yet to be determined presidential election.

Katumbi is in the United States for medical treatment, where he has reportedly been meeting senior officials in Washington.

Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, Kabila’s chief diplomatic adviser says his government doesn’t have a problem with the opposition leader’s meetings in Washington or elsewhere.

“He is free to go wherever he wants and meet whomever he wants. The only problem we may have with him is that he left the Congo for medical reasons, he has a legal case in Congo. He still has to answer questions on legal matters and he was asked not to say anything about the case while traveling abroad. So he can meet with people, he can talk with people as long as he doesn’t address the case, which is pending with the Congolese judicial system, there is no problem with us,” said Karubi.

Katumbi was sentenced last month to three years in jail for fraud, which analysts say effectively prevents him from contesting in a presidential election.

His supporters say the government is going after Katumbi because he is the only legitimate opposition choice who can wrest political power from Kabila, whom they accuse of refusing to step down, despite his second term set to expire by the end of the year.

Karubi says, "The fact of being a politician, the fact of being a presidential candidate does not exonerate you from facing the justice, if you commit a crime. That is what happened to him and it has nothing to do with the government.”

Government opponents say it appears Kabila is not interested in ensuring a smooth, peaceful and democratic handover of power by refusing to allow elections to be held this year as stipulated in the constitution. They accuse the president of subverting the constitution he swore to protect.

But Karubi says due to technical challenges it is unlikely for elections to be held this year. He says Kabila would peacefully hand over power after the technical challenges in organizing elections are resolved. He says the country faced similar technical problems in 2005, which forced the elections to be postponed to 2006.

“Even the United Nations mission in the Congo came up with a statement yesterday saying that because of technical problems, it would be almost impossible to organize elections in the Congo this year." said Karubi, "... we need maybe a year, maybe a year and half, but the elections are in motion already. The registration for a new voter roll is underway so elections will take place."

Critics have called for a transitional government after Kabila’s term expires until polls can be held and a new government installed.

Karubi answers, “The transitional [government] is nowhere to be seen in our constitution ... The key thing for us Congolese, all political leaders to sit around the table and talk about when are we going to have a clean election in order to decide the next step forward."