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Congo truce holds, but security fears still high

August 23, 2006

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) – A truce ending clashes between
followers of Congo’s presidential election rivals brought a
tense calm to Kinshasa on Wednesday and diplomats said more
confidence building steps were needed to avoid further
violence.

U.N. and European Union peacekeepers patrolled the
sprawling riverside capital to enforce a U.N.-brokered
agreement reached on Tuesday between President Joseph Kabila’s
military commanders and fighters loyal to Vice-President
Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The feuding factions agreed to end three days of artillery,
rocket and machine-gun duels which began on Sunday, when
electoral officials announced the two men 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.

Kinshasa showed some signs of getting back to normal on
Wednesday, although looting and sporadic gunfire were reported
in some neighborhoods and residents remained on edge as French
Air Force helicopters clattered overhead.

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

But fearing possible further violence, expatriates and
locals rushed to get home early from the center of town.

“We get worried when we see our leaders start provoking
disorder. We’re afraid of more violence,” photographer Clement
Nanga, 32, told Reuters in a Kinshasa market.

The U.N., which has its biggest peacekeeping force in the
world in Congo, and other foreign mediators have urged Kabila
and Bemba to meet in person to settle the armed feuding.

“This leaves a lot of work for Kabila and Bemba to do. It’s
the two of them who are creating the insecurity — it is
entirely in their hands,” a Western diplomat said.

He added they would have to respect each other’s right to
campaign and to make election broadcasts leading up to the
deciding run-off vote scheduled for October 29.

“It’s not a question of whether it can work. It has to,”
the diplomat, who asked not to be named, said.

TENSIONS STILL RAW

Kabila and Bemba’s camps have blamed each other for the
violence, saying their fighters were responding to attacks.

“We don’t know why they attacked us. Maybe they will tell
us,” said Francois Muamba, secretary general of Bemba’s
Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), a former Ugandan-backed
rebel group that fought in Congo’s 1998-2003 war.

Kabila’s spokesman Kudura Kasongo said tensions were still
too raw to be able to predict what the next moves would be.

The fighting has raised fears about security for the
October run-off. The more than 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping
mission was boosted for the July 30 elections by a smaller EU
force of around 1,000 soldiers, backed by standby units in
Gabon.

U.N. troops in sandbagged positions guarded the riverside
home of Bemba, which Kabila’s soldiers attacked on Monday.

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 the 1998-2003 war sparked a
humanitarian crisis that has killed more than 4 million people.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin and
Daniel Flynn in Kinshasa)


Source: reuters



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