MP seeks asylum in SA embassy

10 September 2012 - 02:10 By Reuters
Congolese MP Roger Lumbala. File Photo
Congolese MP Roger Lumbala. File Photo

A top opposition figure in the Democratic Republic of Congo wanted by the government on treason charges is seeking asylum in the South African embassy in neighbouring Burundi, a spokesman for the Congolese government said on Saturday.

The government accuses Roger Lumbala, a Congolese MP and former rebel, of helping Rwanda support a rebellion in eastern Congo that has deepened political divisions in the capital Kinshasa.

The worsening political chaos threatens to undermine President Joseph Kabila's ability to push through reforms in the country - a potential mining and oil giant - after his re-election in flawed polls last year.

Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the Congolese government, said Lumbala had been trying to gain asylum at the South African embassy in Bujumbura, the Burundian capital.

"We're convinced he is in a group who are helping the Rwandans in North Kivu," Mende said, referring to the province where the M23 rebels operate.

Negotiations were under way to get Lumbala transferred to Kinshasa, Mende said, but there had been no response from South Africa.

Officials from South Africa and Burundi were not immediately available for comment.

The opposition has also accused President Joseph Kabila of helping Rwanda back the rebellion in the east.

"It's practically impossible that [Kabila] will be indicted [for treason] but it could still cause him problems if he has to defend himself from these allegations," said Philippe Biyoya, a professor of politics at Kinshasa University.

Fighting in Congo's eastern hills erupted earlier this year when a mutinous general organised a rebel force to fight the latest conflict in nearly two decades of Rwandan-backed uprisings.

A UN report - strongly denied by Rwanda - has again linked Kigali to M23, whose six month-old rebellion has forced 220000 people to flee their homes near the Rwandan border.

Congo's neighbours are studying a plan to help crush the rebellion. But, in Kinshasa, Kabila's government has other problems.

A statement released by the party of leading opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi on Thursday said Kabila was guilty of "high treason" for allowing Rwandan troops onto Congolese soil.

It called on the population to rise up against the government.

On Monday, leading eastern politician Vital Kamerhe - a longtime opponent of joint military operations with Rwanda - signed a declaration calling for Kabila's prosecution for his role in the operations.

In return, Rwandan bloggers have taken to the internet to accuse the Congolese authorities of stirring up ethnic hatred in a region still recovering from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which around 800000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred.