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Die, they must. (Around Africa: DRCongo).

Despite pressure put on him to commute the death sentences passed on 30 people recently in connection with his father's assassination, President Joseph Kabila says the law must take its course.

The pressure has been intense. It has been coming from the United Nations, Belgium the former colonial power), the local Catholic Church and the US government (which has not abolished the death penalty itself). But Joseph Kabila (the youngest president in the world) says he would not overturn the court's decision.

His father, Laurent Desire Kabila, was gunned down on 16 January 2001 by, according to the official version, Rachidi Kasereka, one of his bodyguards who was afterwards killed by Col Eddy Kapend, Kabila's right hand man.

Among the 30 people sentenced to death by a military court in Kinshasa on 7 January 2003, are some of the key conspirators of Laurent Desire Kabila's assassination including Col Eddy Kapend, Col Alphonse Motindo Kitambala, Lieutenant-Col Kunda Ngelabo, special security adviser Nono Lutula and intelligence chief Georges Leta Mangassa. Gen Yav Nawej, the overall commander of the Kinshasa garrison was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Col Eddy Kapend, 40, was one of the most trusted aides of Laurent Desire Kabila. Both originate from the southern province of Katanga. He was in charge of security, defence and regional diplomacy. As chief of Staff, he secured a budget of $1,500 million for the army, which gave him considerable clout. Hours after Kabila's assassination, Kapend, who seemed to be the country's strong man, delivered a radio-televised message to the nation, summoning the government and the army for "consultation".

Joseph Kabila's spokesman, Mulegwa Zihindula, told a press conference in Kinshasa: "The president believes justice has spoken and he does not want to interfere."

Joseph's position is generally backed by public opinion in Congo which suspects "the hand that eliminated Kabila to be activating a 'forgive them campaign' on behalf of the culprits".

According to Gen Nawele Bakongo, president of the military court: "The trial is not over yet. Investigations are still going on. There will be other trials because we are still looking for other culprits who escaped. We have issued international warrants."

He did not elaborate on how "the other culprits" escaped and did not address concerns levelled by human rights organisations that "some big fishes in the late Kabila's entourage are still at large and that the mystery surrounding his death remains unsolved."

Defence lawyers for Col Kapend (who is alleged to have masterminded the aborted coup attempt which resulted in Kabila's assassination) and the other 29 condemned to death, have officially asked Joseph Kabila to pardon them.

They argued that doing so would foster a climate of "national reconciliation" which has gathered momentum with the signing (on 17 December 2002 in Pretoria) of a power-sharing deal between the government, the civil society, the non-armed political opposition and the rebel movements.

But in his New Year's address to the nation, Joseph Kabila emphasised that all acts of looting (several bank accounts belonging to rebel leaders have been frozen in Brussels and Switzerland) and all crimes against humanity committed in Congo will not go unpunished.

Recent acts of massacre and cannibalism have been confirmed by the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) and Mgr Melchisedeck Sikulu, the Catholic bishop of Butembo in north-eastern Congo. They have been perpetrated by rebels in Ituri Province. Massacres of civilians have also continued in Uvira, near the border with Rwanda and Burundi in the east.

MONUC discovered two mass graves in Mambasa, 50 km northwest of Beni, near the Ugandan border, and confirmed that civilians have been massacred by foreign troops, reportedly redeployed there, supported by Congolese rebels in Uvira and others villages alongside Lake Tanganyika. The clashes in the northeast have forced 155,000 people to flee their homes, according to the French humanitarian agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

It is estimated that more than three million Congolese have been massacred or died as a result of the rebel war, which started in August 1998.

Sergio Vieria, the UN high commissioner who visited Congo in mid-January condemned Congo's aggressors and their rebel allies for using rape as a weapon of war. "Sooner or later, justice will have the last word over all the crimes that are being perpetrated in Congo," he told a press conference.

Elsewhere, Rwanda's President, Paul Kagame has been awarded an honorary Degree of "Doctor of Philosophy" at the prestigious Vellore Institute of Technology in Tamili Nadu State, India, "for having restored peace and prosperity in his country and for accelerating the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo".
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Article Details
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Author:Bafalikike, Lokongo
Publication:New African
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6ZAIR
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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