August 22, 2006

UN presses Congo factions to end Kinshasa fighting

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) - The European Union rushed more
peacekeepers to Congo's capital Kinshasa on Tuesday as the U.N.
tried to broker an end to gunbattles between President Joseph
Kabila's soldiers and fighters loyal to his election rival.

Rocket and small arms fire shook the riverside city for a
third day after Sunday's announcement that Democratic Republic
of Congo's July 30 polls were inconclusive and Kabila would
face a run-off vote against a vice president, Jean-Pierre

But the fighting appeared to die down later in the day.

After flying in three helicopters and about 60 French,
Portuguese and Swedish special forces troops overnight, the
European Union's rapid reaction force for Congo brought in
around 200 more German and Dutch soldiers from nearby Gabon.

They joined around 1,000 EU troops and more than 17,000
U.N. peacekeepers who had protected last month's elections, the
first free polls to be held in more than four decades in the
vast, war-scarred former Belgian colony.

Since the October 29 run-off was announced on Sunday,
heavily armed members of Kabila's presidential guard have
repeatedly clashed with soldiers loyal to Bemba, a former rebel
chief who commands strong support in Kinshasa.

Both sides blamed the other for starting the fighting.

The gunbattles, mostly around Bemba's riverside residence,
have killed at least five people and wounded many more,
officials and hospital sources said. Bodies have been seen
lying on the city streets, near-deserted as residents stayed

The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, William
Swing, called for an immediate ceasefire.

"It is imperative that the clashes end immediately and that
the two presidential election candidates meet urgently for the
good of the democratic process," he said.

Swing made the statement before he and foreign ambassadors
met Kabila. They had met Bemba on Monday at his house, where
they became trapped by the fighting and had to be rescued by
Uruguayan and Spanish peacekeepers.

"There is going to be a meeting between Kabila and Bemba's
military personnel this afternoon at U.N. headquarters to try
to resolve this (fighting)," a Western diplomat told Reuters.

"Kabila gave diplomats promises that everything would be
calmed down by this evening," he added, asking not to be named.


Congo's influential Roman Catholic Church and the European
Commission also condemned the violence and called for dialogue.

U.N. troops were being deployed in the center of the
normally bustling city to secure it. Diplomats said they had
heard reports of outbreaks of looting in some neighborhoods.

"The situation is very tense," the deputy EU force
commander, Admiral Henning Bess, told Reuters by telephone.

Bemba was under U.N. protection and U.N. military vehicles
guarded his house.

Swing said an earlier ceasefire agreed on Monday appeared
to have been ignored.

"The people deserve more than clashes like these. People
are waiting for good elections and these cannot take place with
guns but ballots," he told U.N. radio.

South African President Thabo Mbeki was also involved in
efforts to pacify the situation, a South African official said.

In the July 30 first round vote, Kabila gained 44.81
percent, well ahead of Bemba, who had 20.03 percent.

But Kabila, who assumed the presidency when his father
Laurent was assassinated in 2001, failed to obtain the more
than 50 percent needed to win outright in the first round.

The elections were meant to draw a line under a decade of
conflict in the former Zaire, where a 1998-2003 war sparked a
humanitarian crisis that killed more than 4 million people. But
they have underlined deep political and ethnic divisions.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Eric
Onstad in Johannesburg)