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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 08:42 GMT
DR Congo tension over Bemba guard
Jean-Pierre Bemba (file image)
Mr Bemba does not want to accept police guards
Tension is high in DR Congo with a deadline for troops loyal to former presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba to disarm set to expire.

Last week, the army gave Mr Bemba's guards an ultimatum to stand down.

But dozens of armed men are still at his residential compound in the centre of the capital, Kinshasa.

Mr Bemba, a former rebel leader, was defeated by Joseph Kabila in landmark presidential elections in October last year.

Mr Kabila now wants him to downscale his private security force, but Mr Bemba refuses to be left without armed guards.

Police replacements

Congolese Defence Minister Tshikez Diemu told the BBC that violence would not be used to disarm the guards of Mr Bemba and another former rebel leader and defeated election candidate, Azarias Ruberwa.

"We have suffered so much," he said.

UN troops patrolling in Kinshasa on 15 March 2007
UN peacekeepers have increased patrols in the capital
He appealed to both men to disband their armed guards for the sake of the country's stability.

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa says Mr Bemba's guards have been patrolling the streets around his residential compound day and night.

They now wear the combat gear they were seen in during several violent clashes last year.

Most have tied red handkerchiefs around their heads. They have been carrying their usual AK rifles, but unconfirmed reports in the local press say some have also been seen with bows and arrows.

Last year, the UN mission in DR Congo (Monuc) estimated that Mr Bemba's armed guard comprised some 200 men.

Soldiers from DR Congo's armed forces, meanwhile, have taken up positions around the compound and UN peacekeepers in armoured vehicles have increased patrols.

Foreign nationals have received text messages from their embassies advising them to avoid the area, while schools in central Kinshasa are closed, our correspondent adds.

The army set the deadline for Mr Bemba and Mr Ruberwa to disband their armed guards last week.

They have been told to send the guards to an army reintegration programme and to accept a detachment of police guards instead.

But they have both rejected the army deadline and are asking for further negotiations.


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