(Reuters) – An opposition figure wanted in the Democratic Republic of Congo on treason charges has left neighboring Burundi, where he had taken refuge, and has gone to France, his lawyer said on Sunday.
Roger Lumbala, a Congolese member of parliament and former rebel, arrived at the South African Embassy in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura earlier this month, seeking asylum.
The government accuses him of helping Rwanda support a rebellion in eastern Congo that has deepened political fissures in the capital Kinshasa, where the government and opposition accuse each other of fanning the flames of the distant war.
The worsening political chaos threatens to undermine President Joseph Kabila’s ability to push through political and economic reforms in the country – a potential mining and oil giant – after his re-election in flawed polls last year.
“Lumbala left the South African Embassy on Saturday with a Kenya Airways flight and took the direction of France,” lawyer Prosper Niyoyankana told Reuters.
“He was escorted to Bujumbura international airport by officials from the South African Embassy and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR),” he added.
A source at the South African Embassy confirmed the departure. Burundian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Democratic Republic of Congo said Lumbala’s move to France did not change their desire to bring him back to face charges.
“We still want him to answer in front of Congolese justice … We’re simply re-orientating our request for co-operation towards France,” government spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters by telephone.
On Thursday, Burundi’s foreign affairs minister asked Congolese authorities to formulate an official demand for the extradition of Lumbala.
(Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa; Editing by George Obulutsa and Pravin Char)