Congo 's main opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), has called for a political solution to allow the return of its leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, the party said in a statement. The ex-warlord has lived in Portugal since his personal guard clashed with government soldiers in March, killing hundreds. Joe Bavier is in the capital, Kinshasa , and has more for VOA.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, elected a senator after losing landmark presidential elections in 2006, was granted a 60-day leave of absence by the Senate leadership in early April, officially to seek medical treatment in Portugal .

However, at the time it was widely viewed as a face-saving move.

Bemba left Congo April 11 after nearly three weeks holed up in the South African embassy, saying troops loyal to President Joseph Kabila were trying to kill him. The deadline for his return was Saturday.

A Bemba advisor told VOA over the weekend that measures necessary to ensure his security were not in place.

The statement said Bemba's return was essential to the consolidation of Congo 's young democracy, which held its first democratic polls in more than four decades last year.

"The political bureau of the MLC calls upon the head of state and all those who believe in the virtues of democracy, within the national and international communities, to get involved in the search for political and practical ways leading to this return," the statement read.

Mr. Kabila and his government have placed blame for the violence on Bemba.

In March, Congo 's public prosecutor requested the Senate lift the immunity Bemba enjoys as a senator so he could be prosecuted as the "intellectual author" of the violence. However, the Senate, which held its first session late last month, has yet to take a decision on Bemba's fate.

Bemba's refusal to return to Congo within the 60-day period granted him means he may risk losing his seat in the Senate and the immunity that comes with it.