Talks to decide Joseph Kabila's political fate continue

Source close to DRC mediators says both sides making new demands, making final settlement increasingly difficult.

    Opposition parties and representatives of Joseph Kabila's government are struggling to reach an agreement that would end a long-standing political stalemate in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

    A source close to the mediation team - made up of members of the Catholic Church - said on Saturday that both parties continued to bring new demands to the table, making the final steps increasingly difficult.

    "The agreement is ready, but this morning, all the groups came with new demands for details to be included in the accord, which is delaying the signing ceremony," the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

    Al Jazeera's Fahmida Miller, reporting from Kinshasa, said the sticking point was the issue of a referendum.

    "The government representatives here say they want to reserve the constitutional right provided by Article 5 to have a referendum before elections are held next year, but they don't say what the vote would be about," she said.

    "The opposition says they want to remove any loopholes from this agreement. They, of course, oppose that referendum and say the government is trying to keep President Kabila in power."

    Talks between the DRC government and opposition aim to resolve the future of President Kabila, who is holding on to power although his second and final five-year term ended on December 20.

    The negotiations, launched on December 8, are taking place under the aegis of the influential Catholic Church, which had initially set Christmas Day as a deadline for a deal.

    'Political transition'

    Representatives from both sides met on Saturday at the headquarters of Congo National Episcopal Conference (CENCO).

    On Saturday, Marcel Utembi, CENCO president, said the two sides "are on the verge of concluding an accord".

    "The various delegates have reached agreement on the points where divergences lay," he said, adding that the pact "is set to be signed tomorrow morning".

    The working document for the deal, seen by AFP news agency, envisages a "political transition" with fresh presidential elections to be held at the end of 2017.

    The vote was supposed to be organised in late 2016. The government had previously said it was impossible for it to be held before April 2018.

    The draft deal also guarantees that Kabila will not seek a third mandate and lays the groundwork for a "national transition council" charged with carrying out the agreement.

    In return, the opposition headed by 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi would accept that Kabila can stay in power until he hands over to an elected successor.

    It had previously demanded his immediate departure from public life.

    In May 2016, Kabila managed to get a court to rule that he could remain in power until a successor was chosen.

    The deadline for his departure from office unleashed clashes that have left between 56 and 104 people dead, according to various tolls.

    The Catholic Church continues to play a crucial role in mediation efforts [Reuters]

    SOURCE: News agencies


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