- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo — The nation’s chief prosecutor issued an arrest warrant yesterday for a failed presidential candidate who took refuge inside a foreign embassy while his personal army and government troops fought in the capital. At least 12 persons were killed in the two days of clashes, hospital officials said.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord who lost a presidential runoff election last year, said he would not surrender, but had ordered his troops to stop fighting.

Congo’s chief prosecutor, Tsaimanga Mukenda, said neither Mr. Bemba’s immunity as a senator nor the fact that he had sought refuge in the South African Embassy would stop his arrest on charges of high treason.

“He has caused serious infractions by organizing a militia and by ordering looting. … His actions amount to high treason and we will pursue him wherever he is,” Mr. Mukenda said, adding he would ask parliament to strip Mr. Bemba of immunity.

Clashes between Mr. Bemba’s personal army and security forces began Thursday. Mr. Bemba, who had refused orders to disband his militia, accused the government of starting the violence and said the aim appeared to be “to kill me.” He told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he had heard he was being sought for arrest and that he would not surrender.

“For what reason? I have been attacked, and if someone has to complain, it’s me to complain,” he told the BBC from the South African Embassy, where he arrived Thursday night with his wife.

He said he had called on his supporters to stop fighting and wanted a political solution. He said he had not decided whether to request asylum from South Africa.

Twelve bullet-riddled bodies were delivered to the capital’s central morgue, the morgue’s director Toussaint Itali said yesterday. At Kinshasa’s General Hospital, chief surgeon Tombe Diabeno said the hospital was treating 27 wounded persons, most of them women.

Sporadic gunfire continued to ring out yesterday and thick black smoke rose from an oil refinery in the capital. Radio Okapi, a United Nations-backed radio station, reported that the state-run refinery had been hit during the clashes, possibly by a mortar shell. Numerous restaurants were looted overnight, as well as the Zimbabwean Embassy, said government spokesman Toussaint Tshilombo. Shells damaged the defense minister’s home 21/2 miles away in Brazzaville, the capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo, government spokesman Alain Akouala said.

The army had seized two of Mr. Bemba’s three residences in the capital, the governor of Kinshasa, Andre Kimbuta, said yesterday. He said the military was slowly gaining control over the city and that some of Mr. Bemba’s fighters had fled.

This week’s fighting is the first in the capital since Congo installed Joseph Kabila as president on Dec. 6, making him the nation’s first freely elected president since 1960.


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