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Kabila sets two-year deadline for elections then aide backtracks

May 24, 1997

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Congo’s new leader said Saturday that elections will be held within two years, but his chief of staff immediately suggested the timeline was not firm.

The confusion underscored the mixed signals coming from Laurent Kabila and his aides since rebel forces took Kinshasa last weekend, driving out despot Mobutu Sese Seko and assuming leadership of the country formerly known as Zaire.

Visiting a hospital in his first public appearance in the capital since assuming power, Kabila told CNN that elections would come after a two-year transition period.

But within minutes, his chief-of-staff, Moise Nyarugabo, was backtracking. ``That’s not wrong, but it’s not exactly right,″ he told The Associated Press.

The mixed signals were typical of a week in which Kabila’s alliance asked members of Congo’s other important political coalition to join his government but rejected its leader, and allowed protesters to march freely on Friday then arrested them Saturday.

Even those closest to Kabila seem unclear about his intentions: On Tuesday, his finance minister Mwana Nanga Mawampanga said Kabila was still committed to elections in 12 months. It was the first anyone heard of that deadline.

Complicating Kabila’s transformation from rebel leader to political leader was the second straight day of street demonstrations by supporters of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

Troops loyal to Kabila broke up the protests, taking away their placards and detaining several people.

The several hundred protesters, angry that Tshisekedi has been denied a role in Congo’s new government, chanted: ``Kabila, assassin.″

Soldiers allowed a smaller pro-Kabila demonstration to proceed.

Another ominous sign for the opposition was the troops’ insistence that journalists covering the event hand over film and tape.

A week ago, after an eight-month war, residents in Kinshasa cheered Kabila’s troops as they swept into the capital to complete their ouster of Mobutu.

But on Friday, Kabila named a new government made up mostly of his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, and decided to eliminate the posts of prime minister and vice president.

That angered supporters of Tshisekedi, who was twice fired as prime minister by Mobutu. They claim that Kabila, who vowed during the rebellion to rid the country of the corruption and power-hoarding that was the standard during Mobutu’s 32-year rule, is so far no better than his predecessor.

Kabila’s new government includes two members from Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress, but Kabila retains the lone leadership position as well as control of Congo’s defense.

Seven members of Kabila’s Alliance have positions in the new administration as do six representatives from other groups. Kabila won’t take anyone associated with Mobutu’s regime, and four posts still need to be filled.

Meanwhile, the disgraced and ailing Mobutu, who amassed a fortunes during his dictatorship, was scrambling for a place to settle into exile.

The government of Togo, where he fled just hours before Kabila’s army took Kinshasa, allowed him only a brief stay. Now, the king of Morocco, Mobutu’s current temporary residence, has made it clear that he will have to move again.

Mobutu is believed to be planning to go to France, where he owns a villa on the Riviera, after legislative elections there end next month.

In Tanzania, meanwhile, the government said it is preparing to return about 100,000 Congolese who fled fighting eight months ago when their country was still called Zaire.

The government-owned Daily News reported Saturday that with Kabila in control, Tanzanian authorities believed it was safe for the refugees, who have been camped around the Lake Tanganyika port of Kigoma, to return home.

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