KINSHASA, CONGO - Congo's president said Wednesday he would appoint a prime minister within 48 hours as a political impasse looms, and he promised that long-delayed presidential elections would take place without saying when.
President Joseph Kabila's comments to parliament were his first since his party reached a deal with the opposition on Dec. 31 to hold elections without him by the end of this year. Concerns have grown about the deal's implementation. Catholic bishops who mediated the talks walked away last week, and the opposition this week refused to participate.
Under the deal, the prime minister would come from the opposition. If opposition members don't work together to agree on a candidate, Kabila said, he will name one instead.
This vast Central African nation has seen widespread anger over Kabila's stay in power after his mandate ended in December. His government has delayed elections, saying preparations take time.
"I would like to solemnly announce to our people that the elections will indeed take place" in accordance with a timetable set by the independent electoral commission, the president said.
Kabila also addressed the growing violence in the once-calm central Kasai region where the bodies of an American and a Swedish investigator for the United Nations were found last month in a shallow grave. They had been investigating recent fighting between the local Kamwina Nsapu militia and government forces.
The United Nations has said 23 mass graves have been found in the region, and at least 434,000 people have been displaced. More than 400 people have been killed since government troops killed the militia's leader in August.
Kabila said those responsible for the violence in the region would be held accountable, and he promised increased security. He blamed the Kamwina Nsapu militia for acts of terrorism.
"It is necessary to restore the authority of the state by all possible legal means," Kabila said, adding that he would sanction any members of the security forces responsible for violence. Already, seven armed forces members have been arrested.
Kabila promised justice for the killings of the U.N. experts.
"Crimes committed by the militia against citizens, security agents and against the United Nations will not go unpunished," he said, calling for armed groups to lay down their weapons.