Democratic Republic of Congo adviser on 'pleading mission' to U.S. not to impose sanctions

September 17, 2016 12:07 AM EDT

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By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior adviser to Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila said on Friday he was on a "pleading mission" to Washington to press U.S. officials to support talks between the government and opposition on setting up new elections and not to impose sanctions that could hurt the process.

In an interview with Reuters, Barnabe Kikaya said he had updated U.S. officials and lawmakers on talks under way to form an interim government in Congo and insisted that Kabila was not seeking to extend his term.

"I'm in a pleading mission because there are two resolutions that were pending in the House to impose sanctions on Congolese officials," Kikaya said. "My mission is to plead with American officials and to prove to them that sanctions are not a solution to help us resolve our problems."

Washington has threatened sanctions against political figures over delays in the vote that had been set for November. The mining-rich country has never had a peaceful transition of power and the delay has led to protests and arrests.

Most major opposition parties are boycotting the talks, saying they are part of a plan by Kabila to justify staying in power beyond the end of his mandate in December, when he is due to step down under the constitution.

The opposition has insisted that presidential elections should be held first, but the government has argued for local elections to take place before.

Under a compromise worked out between the sides, presidential and legislative elections would occur simultaneously provided there was funding for it, Kikaya said.

A senior State Department official said the United States supported talks that included the opposition and civil society, but there was still a lack of clarity over precisely what the agreement would include.

"We want to see what it would say," the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We want to make sure that the Congolese government includes political opposition, civil society in these discussions."

The United States insisted again on Friday it was ready to consider additional targeted sanctions against individuals who sought to undermine Congo's democratic institutions and the election process.

"We're ready to consider targeted sanctions under those circumstances," the official said, adding: "It is something we're exploring and looking at."

Kikaya denied that Kabila was seeking to stay in power and pushed back at accusations that the delay in the election was "purposefully engineered."

The constitution "means a lot to him and he will not violate it," said Kikaya, "And he has said it time and again."

Asked why Kabila had not publicly stated he was not seeking to extend his term, Kikaya said: "He has made it clear at every opportunity. It is written in the constitution that he can't and the constitution hasn't changed."

Kikaya added: "He cannot say it. We are in Africa ... where if Kabila had to say that ... from that time on he loses all authority."

Washington had made it clear to Congo's leaders that the election process had to be inclusive and in keeping with the constitution and agreements among political parties, the State Department official said.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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