|Top defendant pleads not guilty|
|in Congo presidential assassination conspiracy case|
Associated Press, 18 December 2002
KINSHASA, Congo - The trusted top aide of former President Laurent Kabila pleaded innocent Wednesday to charges that he conspired to assassinate the Congo leader and tried to seize power in the hours after the killing.
"I neither harbored an intention to pull a coup d'etat, nor did I carry out this act," Col. Eddy Kapend, Kabila's cousin and aide-de-camp declared in what was the final hearing of a military trial in Congo's capital, Kinshasa.
Kapend is the top defendant among 115 charged with conspiring in Kabila's assassination. All 115 have pleaded innocent; more than 100 of the accused face the death penalty.
The court is expected to hand down decisions for all defendants on Dec. 28.
Kabila was shot at his desk in the presidential palace Jan. 16, 2001, by one of his own young bodyguards, who was immediately gunned down himself.
Kapend appeared on state TV in the hours just after the killing, telling the military to seal the country's borders. The move prompted widespread suspicions about Kapend and his intentions.
Kabila's son, Joseph, soon assumed the presidency and helped preside over the winding down of four years of war that aid groups say led to the deaths of some 2.5 million people.
Many Congolese and others doubt the credibility of the proceedings, as well as its ability to get to the truth of the still mystery-shrouded killing.
Amnesty International has raised concerns that others convicted by the same court had no right to appeal and were executed, often only hours or minutes being deemed guilty.
Copyright © 2002 Associated Press
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.