GOMA - Preliminary talks on elections got underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid continued tension over slow preparations for the poll and what the opposition says are attempts by President Joseph Kabila to cling to office.
There are about 50 participants at the talks, including some opposition politicians, as well as ruling coalition and civil society representatives.
The dialogue facilitator, Togo's former prime minister Edem Kodjo, released a list of opposition parties taking part, most of them small. The bulk of the biggest opposition party, the UDPS, and the other parties in the main opposition bloc, known as the Rassemblement, were not represented at the talks Tuesday.
Lawmaker Juvenal Munubo of the UNC, one of the parties that is taking part in the dialogue, told VOA there needs to be more of the opposition on board if the talks are to make progress.
"We must not think that everything is in place and we can now discuss the main points without trying to get the others involved," he said. Other parties continually need to feel welcome, he added, stressing that the best way to do that is through acts such as freeing political prisoners and abandoning the lawsuit against Moise Katumbi.
The government announced the release of 26 political prisoners last week, but the opposition says most of them had already been released weeks or months ago. Katumbi's bid to be an opposition candidate for the presidency is currently blocked by a lawsuit.
Munubo suggested some participants in the talks want to reach an agreement quickly.
“There is no fixed duration for the dialogue,” he said, “but certain people say it should not last more than three or four weeks, because everyone is aware that September 20th, which is supposed to be the day for calling the elections, is very close.”
Under the constitution, Kabila's second and final term ends in December, but the electoral commission has said it could take more than a year to prepare for the vote.
An opposition party, ECIDE, was campaigning Tuesday in Goma for the constitution to be respected. Party activist Christian Badose handed out red pens to passers-by to symbolize what he called the need to correct the work of the electoral commission.
The Congolese people must respect the constitution approved by popular vote, he said, adding that six million Congolese died before that vote could be held and it would be shameful to abandon the constitution.
Badose was referring to a widely quoted figure for the number of people who died as a result of Congo's recent wars. That figure is contested, but no one denies there was huge loss of life.