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UN, EU troops patrol Kinshasa as Congo truce holds

August 23, 2006

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) – U.N. and European Union peacekeepers
patrolled Congo’s capital Kinshasa on Wednesday as a truce that
ended three days of gun battles between rival political
factions appeared to be holding.

U.N. troops in armored vehicles guarded major intersections
in the sprawling riverside city, which was quiet but still on
edge after being shaken by artillery, rocket and machine-gun
duels since Sunday.

The fighting between President Joseph Kabila’s presidential
guard and soldiers loyal to his political rival Jean-Pierre
Bemba had followed an official announcement that the two would
contest a presidential election run-off in October.

The clashes, which killed at least 10 people and wounded
many more, marred what had otherwise been remarkably peaceful
historic elections in Democratic Republic of Congo on July 30.

These were the first free polls in the vast, war-ravaged
former Belgian African colony in more than four decades.

After rushing in extra EU peacekeepers, U.N. and foreign
mediators on Tuesday brokered a truce between Kabila and
Bemba’s forces. Both sides blamed each other for starting the
fighting.

“The peace appears to be holding,” Peter Fuss, spokesman
for the EU military force in Congo, told Reuters.

Taxis were running in the city center and streets sellers
were out hawking bread and mobile phone cards. But some
residents reported sporadic gunfire in some Kinshasa
neighborhoods, such as Makala.

Several buildings lining the central boulevard displayed
windows shot out by bullets. 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, a
former rebel chief and one of the vice-presidents in the
country’s transitional government.

CANDIDATE’S HOME PROTECTED

The U.N. has its largest peacekeeping force in the world —
more than 17,000-strong — in the Congo. It was boosted for the
elections by a smaller EU rapid reaction force of around 1,000
soldiers, backed by standby units in nearby Gabon.

Fuss said German paratroopers flown in from Gabon on
Tuesday, Polish military police, and Spanish and French troops
were on patrol around the clock, helping to enforce the truce.

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.

Overnight, police moved to control outbreaks of looting in
some neighborhoods. Some looters could 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.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin).


Source: reuters