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Foreign troops pledge to police Congo truce

By Daniel Flynn and David Lewis

KINSHASA – International peacekeepers warned political factions in Congo on Thursday they would intervene to enforce a fragile truce, after gun battles in Kinshasa this week threatened to derail historic elections.


an Union and U.N. peacekeepers mounted joint patrols on the streets of the sprawling riverside capital after a deal on Tuesday ended three days of clashes between President Joseph Kabila’s military commanders and troops loyal to Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

An uneasy tranquillity reigned on Thursday on Kinshasa’s streets, despite a demonstration by a thousand angry Bemba supporters outside his residence, some of whom chanted “Kill them, Kill them” at foreign journalists.

The commander of the 2,000-strong European force, EUFOR, appealed to Congolese to remain calm after the clashes, which erupted on Sunday when electoral officials announced Kabila and Bemba would contest an Oct. 29 presidential run-off.

At least 16 people were killed in the fighting, which marred what had otherwise been remarkably peaceful elections in Democratic Republic of Congo on July 30.

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

U.N. troops — part of a 17,000 peacekeeping force — and European soldiers intervened late on Monday to separate the two sides and secure the release of the U.N.’s top peacekeeper and foreign ambassadors trapped by the fighting at Bemba’s house.

“This action, lead by the U.N., saved the electoral process,” EU Force Commander Major-General Christian Damay said.

“The U.N. and EUFOR are going to intervene each time the electoral process is threatened by violence, but the Congolese must also accept their responsibility,” he told a news conference.

European reinforcements of three helicopters and parachute troops, which were rushed to Kinshasa on Tuesday, would remain until it was confirmed that peace had been restored, he said.


Political analysts and diplomats warned that Tuesday’s peace deal — which foresaw a joint commission including the United Nations and representatives of Bemba and Kabila’s camps to review grievances — could be short-lived.

“The situation is still very tense, there are too many nervous men wandering around with guns, but we have moved on from the clashes earlier this week,” one diplomat said, saying truce would now need to be strictly implemented.

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.

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

The elections revealed a deep split within the mineral-rich central Africa giant — with Kabila triumphing in his eastern Swahili-speaking homeland, while Bemba dominated in the west and Kinshasa, where Lingala is the main tongue.

Analysts have warned the divide could spell a governance crisis for Kabila should he win in October — leaving him surrounded by a hostile capital city.

Some Bemba supporters in Kinshasa, where the incumbent president is widely regarded as a foreigner, said they would take to the streets if Kabila were elected with foreign support. — Reuter

Chronology of recent events in the DRC

* AUGUST 1998 — Rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda take up arms against Congolese President Laurent Kabila;
* Rebels make major gains. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola send troops to help Kabila and halt rebels at the gates of Kinshasa;
* July 1999 — Six African governments involved in the war sign ceasefire deal in Zambian capital Lusaka. Rebels ignore it;
* August — Rwanda and Uganda join fighting between rebel factions but by month-end the two countries agree to a truce and both the Ugandan-backed MLC and the Rwandan-backed RCD rebels sign the ceasefire deal;
* February 2000 — UN Security Council authorises a 5 500-member force to monitor the ceasefire, but clashes persist;
* May — Heavy fighting rages between Rwanda and Uganda in eastern Congo. Three months later Hutu militiamen responsible for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide attack Rwanda from Congolese territory;
* August — Lusaka peace summit collapses, fighting goes on;
* January 2001 — Kabila shot dead by a bodyguard in Kinshasa and replaced by son Joseph who promises to revive the peace process;
*February — Joseph meets Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Rwanda, Uganda and rebel groups back disengagement plan; 
* September — Fighting breaks out between Rwandan-backed rebels and pro-government forces, and talks in October to launch the inter-Congolese dialogue in Addis Ababa collapse;
* 2002 — Uganda reinforces its troops in northeast Congo after hundreds die in ethnic clashes. Zimbabwe withdraws some troops and Angola says it has pulled out altogether;
* April — South African President Mbeki submits proposals to break the deadlock. Kabila and MLC rebels agree on new government. Rwandan-backed rebels reject the deal;
* July — Presidents of Rwanda and the DRC sign a peace pact in Pretoria, foreseeing the withdrawal of Rwandan troops;
* December 17 — Congo’s warring factions sign peace deal in Pretoria after a month of talks;
* April 2, 2003 — Factions sign deal creating interim constitution and a transitional government for up to 2-1/2 years until first democratic elections in four decades;
* June 6 — Advance party of French troops arrives in Bunia in first deployment of a rapid reaction force to stop bloodletting among rival militias;
* July 12 — Azarias Ruberwa of RCD-Goma says war over, signalling support for power-sharing government;
* September 25 — Senior officials of Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda as well as the DRC pledge to stop interfering in each other’s affairs;
* June 3, 2004 — Angry Congolese attack several UN compounds, turning fury on UN force charged with policing peace process;
* June 11 — Explosions and artillery fire echo across Kinshasa after renegade presidential guards briefly seize state radio in an apparent coup bid; 
* December 18, 2005 — Congo holds referendum on new constitution paving the way for national elections. Results show voters overwhelmingly choose to adopt the new constitution; 
* February 18, 2006 — Congo adopts the new constitution;
* June 22 — The European Union Force begins its mission in Congo to protect people during the elections;
* July 4 — Congolese rebels say they have re-taken the rebel stronghold of Tchei in the lawless east, captured only a month ago in a UN-backed offensive;
* July 30 — First democratic polls in 40 years; and
* October 29 — Second round run-off due to be held. — Reuter.

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