August 23, 2006

UN troops patrol Kinshasa as Congo truce holds

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in armored vehicles
patrolled Congo's capital Kinshasa on Wednesday as a truce that
ended three days of fighting between rival political factions
appeared to be holding.

The riverside city had been shaken by artillery, rocket and
machine-gun duels since Sunday between President Joseph
Kabila's presidential guard and soldiers loyal to his election
rival, former rebel chief Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The fighting, which killed at least 10 people and wounded
many more, followed an official announcement that Democratic
Republic of Congo's landmark elections held on July 30 would
require a deciding run-off vote between Kabila and Bemba.

After rushing in extra European Union peacekeepers, U.N.
and foreign mediators on Tuesday brokered a truce between
Kabila and Bemba's forces, and witnesses said Kinshasa's center
was calm on Wednesday amid signs that life was starting get
back to normal.

White-painted U.N. armored vehicles patrolled the streets
and guarded key intersections, some taxis were running and
streets sellers were out hawking bread and mobile phone cards.

Several buildings lining the central boulevard displayed
windows shot out by gunfire. Four dead bodies were also lying
by the road near the Supreme Court.

The fighting has raised fears about security for the
scheduled October 29 run-off vote between Kabila and Bemba, one
of the vice-presidents in the country's transitional

The U.N. has its largest peacekeeping force in the world --
more than 17,000-strong -- in the Congo which ensured generally
peaceful voting in the July 30 elections, the first free polls
in the vast, former Belgian colony in more than four decades.

U.N. troops were also guarding the riverside home of Bemba,
which was attacked by Kabila's soldiers on Monday. Congolese
troops loyal to Bemba also protected the residence.

"The fighting was heavy here. They attacked us with mortars
and bombs. But it has been calm since yesterday," a pro-Bemba
soldier told Reuters.

Only sporadic gunfire was heard overnight as police
attempted to control outbreaks of looting in some
neighborhoods. Some looters could also be seen carrying off
electrical goods and furniture in central Kinshasa.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan telephoned both
candidates to urge them to "meet immediately to resolve the
situation in a peaceful manner," U.N. chief spokesman Stephane
Dujarric said.

Some aides to Kabila and Bemba are calling for the date of
the run-off vote to be brought forward.

Kabila, who assumed the presidency when his father Laurent
was assassinated in 2001, gained 44.81 percent in the July 30
poll, under the more than 50 percent needed to win outright.
Bemba came second with 20.03 percent.

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.