Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has pardoned nine members of a separatist movement as he pursues a policy of national dialogue ahead of elections later this year, according to state television.
The nine members of the Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) group have received “full remission” from what remains of their life terms,” according to a statement broadcast overnight Thursday.
BDK, which means Kingdom of the Congo in the kikongo language, is a separatist movement with followers concentrated in the south west of the country.
The group backs the restoration of the former Congolese kingdom inside pre-colonial boundaries, which would also comprise parts of Angola, Congo and Gabon.
The nine BDK members were jailed for life in 2009 after violent clashes between the group and police in which 27 people were killed according to the government.
UN and civilian sources put the death toll from the violence at nearer 100.
As well as pardoning the BDK members, Kabila also handed down a presidential pardon to prisoners “aged 70 and above” with no mention either of how many people had benefited or their identities.
Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba meanwhile promised “further conditional freeings by January 10 at the latest” of other prisoners, according to the televised statement which indicated the measures represented “an act of clemency and conciliation” on Kabila’s part.
Kabila, who took power in 2001 and then won elections in 2006 and 2011, called in late November for “an inclusive national dialogue” ahead of elections slated for later this year.
The constitution does not allow him another term and he called for talks with opponents in Africa’s biggest copper producer with a view to preparing the election campaign.
Some opponents accuse him of planning to stand for another term but his supporters say he is merely seeking to defuse political tension ahead of standing down.