U.N. Security Council presses for peaceful Congo transition on trip
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Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans during a march to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/File Photo
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By Amedee Mwarabu Kiboko
KINSHASA (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council pushed for a peaceful transition of power in Congo during a weekend visit aimed at averting massive violence when President Joseph Kabila's mandate runs out on Dec. 19.
The visit by diplomats from countries on the council on Saturday and Sunday aimed to break the deadlock over whether Kabila should step down before an election which, thanks to slow voter registration, has been delayed until at least April 2018.
He has vowed to stay on until the poll goes ahead, but the opposition accuse Kabila of manipulating the process to cling to power in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a charge his supporters deny.
Several protests have erupted against Kabila, who has been in power since his father was assassinated in 2001. More than 50 people were killed in street protests in September.
Security Council members stressed that Kabila's seeking to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third elected mandate, as the opposition accuse him of doing and some of his supporters suggest he might, would be no solution.
"The DRC is at a pivotal moment in its history," Francois Delattre, France's ambassador to the United Nations, told journalists after the meetings on Saturday.
"For the first time, a peaceful transition of power at the end of the president's mandate is possible."
Angola's ambassador to the United Nations Ismael Abraao focused more on the peaceful resolution of the crisis.
"We have assurances. There is a desire from everyone to avoid the worst ... The Security Council is ready to work with you so that there is peace," he said.
But he added: "A third term has not been considered as a solution to the crisis. The solution lies in permanent dialogue."
Leonard She Okitundu, a senator representing Kabila's ruling coalition, sought to allay fears Kabila would seek another term.
"There is no question of a third term because the constitution forbids it," he said. "There can be no third term."
World powers fear that the political impasse over Kabila staying on beyond Dec. 19 could reignite chaos in the vast Central African nation, where millions died in regional conflicts between 1998 and 2003.
Congo stepped up patrols in its volatile east after the former military chief of a rebel group was reported missing from a camp for demobilized fighters in neighboring Uganda, although the Ugandan military said on Sunday that Sultani Makenga was in the country's capital Kampala.
As often, there appeared to be mixed messages about Kabila's intentions during the Security Council visit.
"UNSC asked #DRC Pres. Kabila to confirm he would not run in election. He said Constitution clear on no 3rd mandate but could be amended," Stephen Hickey, political counsellor at the UK Mission to the United Nations, tweeted on Saturday.
"Very concerning that Pres. Kabila mentions possibility of amending constitution when asked straight question on standing for 3rd term," he said in another Tweet.
(Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Dale Hudson)
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