R200 discount for liking us on FB
Kinshasa - Election loser Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel leader turned vice president, has been under pressure to remove his 1 000-strong military force from his residence in central Kinshasa since November 13, when an agreement to pull them out was reached but not implemented.
Around 50 members of Bemba's guard left their barracks inside his Kinshasa residence with their families in the early morning, officers from the army and Bemba's camp confirmed.
The guards left in lorries belonging to the DRC army and headed for Maluku, just 80km away, where Bemba has another residence.
Another 100 soliders and their families were expected to leave Kinshasa later in the day, Western and DRC military sources said. But there was nothing to indicate that Bemba's entire force would be pulled out.
"Perhaps the vice president will go to Maluku for a rest. His guards left beforehand. That's normal procedure," an officer from Bemba's former rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo said on condition of anonymity.
Bemba has formally contested the result of the landmark presidential election, which was won by incumbent President Joseph Kabila. The Supreme Court is due to rule on Saturday on his challenge to the vote.
The continuing presence of Bemba's security force in Kinshasa has raised fears of renewed election-related violence, particulary after Tuesday's protest spiralled out of control.
Police who fired teargas at Bemba supporters outside the Supreme Court were themselves shot at by guards at the vice president's nearby residence. Bemba's supporters then looted and burnt down part of the court building, halting a hearing into his election challenge.
Calm was only restored after United Nations peacekeepers moved in to quash the violence.
In the wake of the unrest, Interior Minister Denis Kalume said on Wednesday that Bemba must weed out troublemakers from within his security force.
"Measures must be taken to neutralise this band of uncontrolled people, who threaten to set the city ablaze," General Kalume said on state television.
Diplomats and officers said Kabila himself had written to Bemba asking him to remove the troublemakers from the city centre.
"It was absolutely not an ultimatum. The letter was written in very measured tones," one diplomatic source explained on condition of anonymity.
"We're trying to find a solution to prevent fresh problems in Kinshasa and it is obvious that the presence of armed men right near the Supreme Court is a risk factor."
A Western officer said the diplomatic pressure had produced some effect on Wednesday evening.
"Bemba himself, or his senior officers, had a word with the troops. There was an agreement from the vice president on Wednesday evening to move at least a section of his force out," the officer said.
Tuesday's violence was the third major flare-up in Kinshasa linked to the election.
After the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) announced in August that Kabila has garnered most votes in the first round of voting, there were pitched battles between supporters of Kabila and Bemba. At least 23 people were killed.
Violence flared again on November 11 after Kabila was given a lead in the second round of voting, this time between street youths, Bemba's military guard and the police.
Four days later the CEI announced that Kabila had decisively won the poll but Bemba's camp cried foul. - Sapa-AFP