March 21, 2006

Annan tells Congo to run elections by the rules

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congo's landmark elections must be
open to all and run by the rules to ensure the results are
accepted, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday.

The U.N. chief said a promise by European countries to send
a force to help secure the polls, scheduled for June 18 and
meant to end a decade of war and chaos, showed the
international community was committed to the Democratic
Republic of Congo.

But in a reminder of the conflict simmering in much of the
east, the British aid agency Oxfam said on Tuesday three of its
workers had escaped an attack by militias over the weekend and
continuing violence was making their work "almost impossible."

Aid workers say the continuing violence is killing 1,000
people every day, mostly through hunger and disease. An
estimated 4 million have died due to war or fighting since

The United Nations has its biggest peace force in Congo
with nearly 17,000 blue helmets helping organize presidential
and parliamentary polls meant to draw a line under a 1998-2003
war that divided the nation and sucked in six foreign armies.

After meeting President Joseph Kabila, Annan said the
elections, the first democratic polls in more than 40 years,
must be free and fair.

"They must also be inclusive -- everyone must have the
chance to take part, without conditions," he added.

Two major political players have threatened not to take
part in the final step of the huge country's peace process.

RCD-Goma, the biggest rebel faction during the war when it
was backed by Rwanda, and now part of the transitional
government, is threatening to pull out of the process in a
dispute over the distribution of seats in the future

The biggest political opposition party, the UDPS, has
boycotted the transitional government so far and is demanding
concessions regarding the organization of the elections before
committing itself to taking part.

Both parties are calling for mediators to resolve their
problems, but Annan urged parties to work together to ensure
the elections were a success.

"Everyone must accept the rules and the results," he said.


U.N. peacekeepers have stepped up military offensives
against a medley of armed militia roaming the mineral rich and
lawless east ahead of the polls, but insecurity remains

British-based aid agency Oxfam said three of its staff were
forced to flee a militia attack in northeast Congo over the

"Our staff were lucky and were rescued after two days in
hiding but this ongoing violence is making our job almost
impossible," Gordon Kihuguru, Oxfam's program manager for the
Congo, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The stretched U.N. mission has sought help from European
countries to secure the electoral process by sending a back-up
force to the former Belgian colony.

Annan said the European readiness to send troops to Congo
was a sign of the international community's commitment to the
peace process there.

"What is important is to make the population understand
that the international community is ready to do everything so
that there is a calm, peaceful election," Annan said.