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US hits Congo officials with travel bans for graft, abuses

February 22, 2019

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The Trump administration on Friday hit senior Congolese officials with travel bans for their alleged involvement in corruption and human rights abuses surrounding December elections.

The State Department said the officials include the president of the country’s National Assembly, the head of its constitutional court and three top members of the national election commission. It said an undisclosed number of other election, military and government officials would also be subject to the sanctions. They and members of their immediate families will have any existing U.S. visas revoked or will not be eligible for visas in the future.

The State Department said the action was being taken because the U.S. has credible information that those targeted were involved in significant corruption, gross violations of human rights or undermining the democratic process in the Congo.

“These individuals enriched themselves through corruption, or directed or oversaw violence against people exercising their rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” the statement said. “They operated with impunity at the expense of the Congolese people and showed a blatant disregard for democratic principles and human rights.”

The United States said it stands with the people of Congo following a historic transfer of power. “However, there are legitimate concerns over the conduct and transparency of the electoral process,” it said in a statement.

It specifically named election commission president Corneille Nangaa, vice president of CENI Norbert Basengezi Katintima and adviser to the election commission president Marcellin Mukolo Basengezi as the election officials. It also named Aubin Minaku Ndjalandjoko, President of the DRC’s National Assembly, and Benoit Lwamba Bindu, President of Congo’s Constitutional Court.

The U.S. also emphasized its commitment to working with the new Congo government to “end corruption and strengthen democracy and accountability, and respect for human rights.”

Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was declared winner of the Dec. 30 elections, leading Congo to its first peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium nearly 60 years ago.

Tshisekedi succeeds Joseph Kabila, the strongman who governed the largely impoverished but mineral-rich Central African country for 18 years before stepping down under pressure.

Declared runner-up Martin Fayulu, however, mounted a court challenge to Tshisekedi’s win, alleging widespread rigging and demanding a recount, which was denied by the Constitutional Court despite leaked data from the electoral commission showing he had easily won.

The United States and others, including many Congolese, had accepted the results in favor of stability.

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AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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