DR Congo has been going through a prolonged political crisis which deepened in October after the presidential election, which had been due before the year's end, was postponed until April 2018 (AFP Photo/Eduardo Soteras)
Kinshasa (AFP) - Democratic Republic of Congo's Catholic Church launched "reconciliation" talks on Thursday aimed at ending a political stalemate threatening to push the country back into civil war.
President Joseph Kabila triggered a political crisis in October by agreeing a deal with a fringe opposition group that effectively lets him extend his hold on power for at least another year. He would otherwise have been due to step down in two weeks' time.
The crisis has led to outbreaks of violence, but the Catholic Church says it hopes to broker a deal to resolve the political standoff.
"We are here for inaugural political discussions on a wider consensus to the electoral process," Archbishop Marcel Utembi said as he welcomed 30 participants to DR Congo's national episcopal conference, which brings together negotiators for Kabila's ruling party and the main opposition group.
Utembi said the discussions, which could last until Tuesday, would lead the country to "peace, reconciliation, the holding of peaceful elections aimed at obtaining a transfer of political power, as prescribed by the constitution".
The prelate reiterated a call from Pope Francis to "build bridges not walls" in the mineral-rich DRC.
He also warned that the current "stalemate" could provoke "incalculable consequences".
However, he took a positive tone claiming that Kabila had given "strong and very encouraging signals" matched by the main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.
Kabila has been in power since his late father Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001.
The younger Kabila has won two elections since then but is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term of office.
Violence flared following the last election in 2011, with Tshisekedi never accepting the official results which he branded as rigged.
He has called himself the president-elect ever since.
But the DR Congo, which was ravaged by two wars from 1996 to 2003, has seen an upsurge in violence over the last few months.
Anti-Kabila protests in September claimed 53 lives, according to the UN.
Pygmy-Bantu clashes over a caterpillar collection tax -- the insects are a common food staple for the hunter-gatherer Pygmy people -- left 20 dead in October while 34 civilians were killed in ethnic violence in the country's restive east last month.
And last week another 31 people died in clashes, sparked by a tribal rivalry, between soldiers and police on one side and militia fighters on the other.
Kabila's term as president is supposed to end on December 20 but he now looks set to remain in power until at least the end of next year.