Amnesty law passed without MPs from Kabila's party

The lower house of parliament in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the National Assembly, passed on Tuesday a law granting amnesty to people who have been blamed for acts of war as well as political offences.

The vote was taken without MPs from President Joseph Kabila's party who feared that a group of people behind the murder of his father, former President Laurent-Desire Kabila, would benefit from the new law. The law would be applicable to offences committed between August 1996 and June 2003.

Some 248 MPs approved the bill, with six abstaining. The House comprises 500 MPs, some of whom are former members of rival rebel groups who have since joined the transitional government.

MPs from Kabila's Parti du peuple pour la reconstruction et le développement (PPRD) walked out before the vote.

"We couldn't stay in the assembly room and support the impunity for the murderers of President Laurent Kabila," Safou Sindani, one of the PPRD MPs, said.

During the vote on the government-sponsored bill, the MPs who remained in the chamber dropped a clause that stipulated that amnesty may not be granted to those who murder a head of state.

"We have dropped the clause because we wanted the law to be impartial," Moise Nyarugabo, leader of the MPs from the former rebel group Rassemblement Congolais pour la démocratie (RCD), said.

A bodyguard shot dead the older Kabila on 16 January 2001 in his office in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. Some 100 people were found guilty during a subsequent murder trial, 30 of whom await death sentences.

President Kabila is expected to promulgate the new law although, according to the PPRD MPs, he disapproved of it.

Problems could arise with the implementation of the law, following the refusal by MPs from Kabila's party to take part in the vote. According to these MPs, the transitional constitution allows the president to raise a complaint before the Constitutional Court if he thinks that a law adopted by the Parliament is unconstitutional.

The amnesty law is supposed to be in place before the holding of a constitutional referendum on 18 December and general elections in June 2006.