KINSHASA Dec 31 Congo's opposition leaders
signed a deal with the party of President Joseph Kabila on
Saturday that will require him to step down after elections that
must take place before the end of 2017.
Mediators from the Congo's Catholic church had been heaping
pressure on both sides for weeks to sign an agreement aimed at
averting a slide into anarchy and possibly another civil war
over Kabila's decision not to step down despite his mandate
expiring more than a week ago.
If they stick to it, the agreement will deliver Democratic
Republic of Congo's first peaceful transfer of power since
independence from Belgium in 1960.
"Today, we are happy to head up a political compromise,"
said Marcel Utembi, President of the Catholic Bishops
Conference, before representatives of Kabila's party, including
Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu and Interior Minister Emmanuel
Shadary, and its main opposition alliance, signed the deal.
Huge hurdles remain, however. The electoral commission has
said elections may not be possible before 2018, and many doubt
Kabila really intends to stand down. Several of his supporters
have floated the idea of changing the constitution to enable him
to run for another term, as other African leaders have done.
Any failure to implement the deal would worsen instability
that has seen scores of people killed over the past four months,
many of them protesters shot dead by security forces. Police and
military killed around 40 people last week protesting when
Kabila's mandate ran out on Dec. 20.
"Now that all pretexts for various plots against the
republic have been removed, I call everyone to ... to create
conditions of true peace and stability throughout the country,"
Kabila said in a year-end address to the nation, which however
did not directly address his own view on the talks.
Diplomats fear growing unrest could trigger a repeat of the
wars between 1996 and 2003 that killed millions, unleashed
dozens of predatory armed groups and drew in more than half a
dozen neighbouring armies.
(Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Diane Craft)