GOMA - In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a political dialogue that started Thursday has been suspended over the weekend in the hope that more of the opposition will attend. But the main opposition bloc, known as the Rassemblement, has set pre-conditions for attending, which are some way from being met.
The bloc’s pre-conditions for participating in the dialogue include freeing political prisoners, lifting bans on several TV stations and the resignation of the dialogue's current facilitator, Edem Kodjo, a former chairman of the Organization of African Unity.
Tensions have been on the rise in the DRC amid controversy over a court ruling that would allow President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond the two consecutive terms permitted by the constitution.
Key issues in the political turmoil have been a timetable for holding free and fair national elections and what should be done if a solution is not reached by the end of Kabila's mandate in December. Government authorities have said the elections, scheduled for November, must be delayed until next year to allow time to register millions of new voters.
Timing of poll at issue
Kabila's opponents accuse him of stalling the poll to hold on to power, a charge the president denies.
The United States and the European Union have encouraged Congo's politicians to take part in a dialogue so as to reach an agreement on holding elections.
So far, few opposition parties have agreed to take part. Leading the opposition group in the dialogue is Vital Kamehre, a former president of the National Assembly.
Speaking at the opening session Thursday he insisted the group would not accept a third term for Kabila.
Everyone knows, he said, that the country is about to enter a crisis, if it's not already in one. That's why we must have these talks, he added, so that when they are over we can tell the Congolese people clearly when the presidential election will be held and when power will be transferred.
He noted the government has gone some way to meeting opposition demands, saying some prisoners of war and political prisoners have been released, and two TV stations have been reopened in Kinshasa. But five remain closed in Katanga province. He called on the government to go all the way with freeing prisoners and reopening media.
Eight pro-democracy activists, most of whom had been in jail since early last year, were freed this week.
Some positive steps
Human Rights Watch researcher Ida Sawyer said this was a positive step but stressed that others remain to be freed.
“Human Rights Watch has documented at least 20 other political prisoners who remain in detention. These people were arrested after speaking out against attempts to extend president Kabila's stay in power beyond the end of his mandate or after participating in peaceful political activities,” Sawyer said
Several of these prisoners are leaders of opposition parties and most have been held for long periods.
Another 170 prisoners were also released from two of the country's jails this week but Sawyer said it is not known how many of them might have been held for political offences.
Meanwhile 85 opposition demonstrators were arrested in Kinshasa on Thursday.
The U.S. government, in its latest statement on the DRC dialogue, welcomed the release of the pro-democracy activists this week but said others also need to be freed and some lawsuits against opposition leaders dropped.
The dialogue facilitator agreed to Vital Kamehre's suggestion that the talks should be suspended over the weekend while he tries to persuade the Rassemblement to take part.