July 18, 2006

Killings stir fears of Congo election violence

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Gunmen have killed up to seven people
at an election rally in eastern Congo in an attack which
revived fears that violence could disrupt the country's
historic polls later this month, officials said on Tuesday.

The unidentified gunmen opened fire on the rally on Monday
afternoon near Rutshuru in Democratic Republic of Congo's North
Kivu province, where marauding bands of rebels and militias
still terrorize the civilian population.

The former Belgian colony holds its first free multiparty
polls in four decades on July 30, but violence still grips many
parts of the vast central African country despite the presence
of the world's biggest United Nations peacekeeping force.

The candidate who had staged the rally that was attacked
fled to Uganda in fear of his life and other local candidates
said they were asking the U.N. for protection.

Tensions were also running high in the capital Kinshasa,
where police fired tear gas on Tuesday at several hundred
rioters protesting at what they called irregularities in the
electoral process. The protesters tore down election posters.

Officials said several people were also wounded in Monday's
unexplained shootings at the rally staged at Mugogo, 15 km (9
miles) east of Rutshuru, by independent parliamentary candidate
Jean-Luc Mutokambale.

It was the worst campaign-related violence reported so far
in the run-up to the July 30 polls in which President Jospeh
Kabila -- who took power after his father was assassinated in
2001 -- is standing against 32 other contenders.

"He (Mutokambale) was holding his meeting in the market
when people opened fire on them. Seven people were killed and
several others were injured. The candidate has had to flee to
Uganda," said Sekimonyo wa Magango, a rival candidate in

"Anything can happen out here," he told Reuters.

The polls are intended to usher in a new era of stability
after a 1998-2003 war which sucked in six neighboring states
and killed around 4 million people through violence, hunger and
disease in one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.


A U.N. spokeswoman in North Kivu, Jacqueline Chenard, said
a U.N. team had been sent to investigate the Mugogo attack.

"Many candidates in these areas cannot carry out their
campaigns freely. The situation is precarious just two weeks
before the elections," she said.

International donors backing the election, which at a cost
of $400 million will be one of the most expensive ever
supervised by the U.N., called for the country's national army
to be confined to barracks before, during and after the voting.

This was necessary "to maintain a climate of calm during
the vote and also to ensure the army is not politicised," the
donors' group said in a statement.

Diplomats said this indicated a clear lack of confidence in
the fledgling national army, into which demobilised rebels and
militia fighters are being integrated. Rights groups accuse
army soldiers of regularly killing, raping and robbing

The donors' group, which includes the U.N., said the
recommended confinement measure should include Kabila's
presidential guard and that Congolese police should maintain
law and order during the polls, along with U.N. peacekeepers.

Some presidential and parliamentary candidates have been
calling for a suspension of the campaign over fears that
election authorities may rig the vote.

Kabila's foes say the international community is clearly
backing the incumbent president and accuse him of abusing his
control over state media and the security services to gain an
unfair advantage over other contenders.