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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 22:40 GMT
Death sentences for 'Kabila killers'
Laurent Kabila with Congolese troops
Kabila was allegedly shot by a bodyguard
A former aide to the late Congolese President Laurent-Desire Kabila, Colonel Eddy Kapend, has been sentenced to death for killing the president.

Twenty-five other defendants received the death penalty from a military court in Kinshasa on Tuesday for their role in Mr Kabila's assassination two years ago.

Colonel Eddy Kapend
Colonel Kapend cannot appeal against the sentence
Another 45 were set free. There is no appeal against judgements handed down by the special court.

But lawyer Pierre Mpelekwa told the French news agency, AFP, that the sentence cannot be carried out without the approval of the head of state.

Despite the verdicts, the BBC's Mark Dummett in Kinshasa says that the truth about who killed Laurent Kabila, and why, is no nearer. He says the trial was incredibly confusing and complicated.

Laurent Kabila was succeeded by his 30-year-old son Joseph, a military officer, within days of the assassination.

Difficult defence

An earlier official inquiry had said the late president had been shot dead by one of his bodyguards as part of a wider coup plot.

After sitting for nine months, Kinshasa's military court upheld the findings.

Colonel Kapend, Laurent Kabila's right-hand man, was found guilty of having been the mastermind, along with several other members of the late president's security team.

Rashidi's wife sits among some of the accused
The bodyguard's wife was one of those on trial
Colonel Kapend's lawyer Franck Mulenda told the BBC that he was pursuing various options, including a request to have the sentence quashed or a presidential pardon.

Our correspondent says the defence was made difficult by the fact that all of the witnesses to the murder were on trial and facing the death penalty, meaning no testimonies were entirely free and fair.

And he says confusion reigned in the trial right up to the end - with the judge having to acquit defendants because they were dead, or because he was not sure whether they existed.

Human rights organisations have criticised the proceedings, saying many of those on trial were clearly not involved in the events surrounding the assassination and alleging that some had been tortured.

Truth obscure

Laurent Kabila was shot on 16 January 2001 - but officials maintained for several days that he was still alive.

Shortly after the shooting at the presidential palace, Colonel Kapend went on television to appeal for calm and announce the closing of borders, fuelling speculation that the Congolese leader had indeed been killed.

It was hoped that the trial would draw a line under the episode, ending awkward questions. But our correspondent says many people in Kinshasa believe that it will take many decades to find out the real story behind Kabila's assassination.

It was 40 years after the murder of Congo's first leader, Patrice Lumumba, that the circumstances of his death became known.

  The BBC's Marc Dummett
"Twenty-six people have been sentenced to death for the assassination"

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See also:

15 Mar 02 | Africa
16 Jan 02 | Africa
20 Dec 01 | Africa
16 Jan 02 | Africa
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