Congo President Kabila reshuffles, trims government

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KINSHASA, Nov 26 (Reuters) Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has reshuffled his government, reducing its members by a quarter but leaving most key posts unchanged.

The long-awaited reshuffle, announced on state television late today, kept 82-year-old Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga, a former deputy to independence leader Patrice Lumumba and a longtime opposition figure, as head of the government.

It was the first major change made by Kabila to the government formed in February following national elections last year. These had been the first democratic polls in more than four decades in the vast, former Belgian colony.

The broad political coalition that helped Kabila win the election remained intact. It combines Kabila's Alliance of the Presidential Majority (AMP), Gizenga's Unified Lumumbist Party (PALU), and the Union of Mobutist Democrats headed by late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's son Nzanga.

Not including Prime Minister Gizenga, the previous 59-member cabinet was reduced to 45 ministers, ministers of state and deputy ministers.

''It's nothing special. The key people at the top haven't moved, so what does it change? It's just a bit of window dressing, I think,'' one western diplomat, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Interior Minister Denis Kalume, Foreign Affairs Minister Mbusa Nyamwisi, and Defence Minister Chikez Diemu all remained in their jobs.

The reshuffle was announced at a time when Kabila's army was preparing an offensive against Tutsi fighters loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda in eastern North Kivu province.

Fighting this year in North Kivu, which has also involved local Mai Mai militia and Rwandan Hutu rebels, has forced more than 370,000 civilians to flee their homes and foreign aid workers have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The reshuffle made one change to the government economic team.

Andre Philippe Futa, who had served in the transitional government that emerged from Congo's 1998-2003 war, was brought in as economy minister.

But there was no change in the key mines ministry, which is overseeing a review of contracts held by foreign companies in Congo's strategic mining and minerals sector.

Kabila had hinted for months that a new cabinet was being prepared following intense criticism in Congo that his administration was moving too slowly to improve security, revive the economy and rebuild infrastructure destroyed in the war.

Interest by foreign companies in Congo's vast mineral wealth has boomed since last year's election, but the ongoing government review of mining contracts has been criticised for a lack of transparency and repeated delays.

REUTERS PD RK1715

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