Lubumbashi - President Joseph Kabila said Monday he would trust the Congolese people to scrutinise his rule when his current mandate ends in 2016, amid rumours of another term in office despite a constitutional ban.
"I trust in the maturity of the Congolese people who will judge my track record at the end of 2016," Kabila told the assembled crowd at a major political meeting in his native province of Katanga.
Media were sent a recording of Kabila's 50-minute speech, which was delivered behind closed doors.
The aim of the talks was to "unite all Katangans" and to "hold consultations on the subject of a third mandate for Joseph Kabila in 2016", which would call for constitutional change, a source in the president's office said ahead of the speech.
The current constitution bars him from running for a third five-year term, but Kabila's foes contend that his backers are planning either to revise the basic law or to hold a census across a nation two-thirds the size of Western Europe, which would inevitably postpone any elections beyond 2016.
Kabila has been staying in the mineral-rich southeastern province for several days, along with Interior Minister Evariste Boshab, and they were to be joined by about 50 parliamentary deputies and senators from Katanga, the source added before the talks.
Notable absentees included the charismatic governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, along with president of the provincial assembly Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza.
In a speech to fervent supporters, the governor guardedly opposed the prospect of opening the way to a third elected term for Kabila, who will have ruled for 14 years on January 17.
Katumbi returned on December 23 to the province, regarded as the economic hub of the country, after spending at least two years abroad for medical treatment, according to his team.
The governor told AFP that he would not attend Kabila's rally for "health reasons", stating that on Wednesday he needed to leave for medical treatment in London.- 2016 vote a 'distraction' -
The government also unveiled a draft bill of preparations for the 2016 vote on Monday, and the 43-year-old president left his intentions unclear once again by refusing to "demean himself" by discussing the issue and describing it as a "distraction".
Kabila, then a young soldier, was first rushed into office in wartime by Kinshasa politicians early in 2001 after the murder of his father, president Laurent Kabila, a former rebel who ousted longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
In 2003, peace deals were cut under the aegis of the United Nations and the international community to end the second Congolese war, which drew in the armies of at least six foreign countries to fight on Congolese soil.
A large UN mission in the former Belgian Congo -- known as Zaire under Mobutu -- helped prepare for the first democratic elections in 2006, when Kabila was voted back into office.
While that poll was generally regarded as free and fair in a country where conflict persists in the east, Kabila's next victory in 2011 was hotly contested by the opposition and international observers.
Eastern DR Congo remains wracked by violence, with UN troops taking up positions to support a planned offensive against Hutu rebels in the region after they ignored a deadline to surrender, a UN spokesman said Monday.
UN officials are pushing for the disarming of dozens of rebel and splinter groups after two decades of conflict in the east, much of it fuelled by the lucrative trade in minerals.