News24

DRCongo ministers attacked

2009-09-01 12:02

Kinshasa - Gunmen opened fire on the homes of two Congolese ministers in an attack aimed at scaring them off testifying against ex-rebel Jean-Pierre Bemba in his war crimes trial, one of the officials targeted said on Monday.

Bemba backers dismissed the allegation as an attempt to discredit him before his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and prevent him from returning to Congolese politics should he be acquitted.

The assailants fired shots at the residences of Jose Endundo, Democratic Republic of Congo's environment minister, and Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe-Mwamba on Sunday. No one was hurt and their houses were only slightly damaged.

"They fired on the entrance gate and they left an envelope with a bullet and a message that read "Testify against Bemba and you will die".

Conditional release

"The same thing happened to minister Thambwe-Mwamba," Endundo said on Monday.

The two ministers were members of Bemba's Congo Liberation Movement (MLC) that fought against Kabila's government during Congo's 1998-2003 war. They then served as MLC ministers in a 2003-2006 transitional government before joining a government of President Joseph Kabila's allies.

Neither minister has been called as a witness against Bemba but both were senior MLC members.

Bemba, who was arrested in Belgium in 2008, faces charges that his rebels waged a campaign of torture, rape and murder in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

Bemba has denied all the charges against him and, earlier this month, the ICC ordered his conditional release pending his trial. The court's prosecutor has appealed against the decision.

Crude set-up

The MLC, currently the largest opposition group in parliament, said the attacks were part of a plot to derail Bemba's release rather than efforts to intimidate the ministers.

"This is a crude set-up organised by the enemies of democracy, who fear a return of the leader of the opposition to the Congolese political scene," Thomas Luhaka, the MLC's acting secretary-general, said.

Luhaka said he suspected members of Kabila's coalition government of staging the attacks.

Bemba lost a run-off election to Kabila in 2006 polls meant to draw a line under decades of dictatorship and a 1998-2003 war. He fled into exile following three days of fighting between remnants of his rebel movement and government soldiers in 2007.