Moise Katumbi
Moise Katumbi

The Democratic Republic of Congo's government has issued an arrest warrant for Moise Katumbi, an opposition leader planning a possible election challenge to President Joseph Kabila.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende told VOA French to Africa on Thursday that the arrest warrant was issued after Katumbi was indicted on a charge of hiring mercenaries.

Katumbi's lawyer, Jean-Joseph Mukendi Wa Mulumba, said Thursday that he cannot respond to the indictment until he is formally notified.

Foreigners arrested

Four foreigners, including a former U.S. soldier, were arrested at a Katumbi rally in the city of Lubumbashi two weeks ago.

Katumbi — who has declared he will run in the next presidential election — has denied government accusations that he was planning a coup attempt.   

He told Congolese prosecutors last week that he did not know an adviser sent to him by an American security company was a former member of the U.S. military.

The current whereabouts of Katumbi are unknown.  Earlier this week, he was in a Lubumbashi hospital.

FILE - DRC President Joseph Kabila is seen at a su
FILE - DRC President Joseph Kabila is seen at a summit in Uganda's capital, Kampala. He is limited by the constitution to seek a thrid presidential term.

Not date for new elections

Congo's constitution limits presidents to two five-year terms, and Kabila's second term ends in December, but officials have not set a date for new elections.  Opposition parties have accused the president of trying to hang on to power by delaying the polls.  

The parties cried foul last week when Congo's Constitutional Court said the president can stay in office beyond his mandate if the election is postponed.  

In a phone call with Kabila in March, U.S. President Barack Obama called on the DRC to hold timely and credible elections that respect the country's constitution.

Kabila is one of several African presidents who have attempted to skirt term limits in the past couple of years.  Attempts by presidents in Burkina Faso and Burundi set off unrest, while Rwandan voters approved extensions for President Paul Kagame.