Heavy gunfire erupts in Kinshasa in third day of fighting; EU sends in reinforcements
KINSHASA, Congo – The United Nations called for an immediate cease-fire Tuesday by rival army supporters of Congo’s two presidential candidates, and three days of deadly fighting ebbed as the European Union sent reinforcements to the restive Central African nation.At least 14 people have been reported killed in the clashes that began after officials announced President Joseph Kabila had failed to win an outright majority in Congo’s first balloting in more than four decades and would face former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba in a second round of voting.Heavy gunfire rang out before dawn Tuesday and fighting raged for hours, then appeared to tail off after the United Nations, with 17,500 peacekeepers in Congo, demanded a halt to hostilities.”The situation is calm. So far, the cease-fire is being respected,” said Col. Thierry Fusalba, a spokesman of the European Union force.At U.N. headquarters in New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. peacekeeping department also reported that “relative calm has been restored in the capital.”Witnesses said Kabila’s special presidential guards had withdrawn from outside Bemba’s house, where the head of the U.N. mission, William Swing, and other diplomats were meeting with Bemba on Monday when fighting started outside the compound. EU and UN troops evacuated the foreign envoys.Aides said Kabila ordered his loyalists back to their barracks and that Bemba, who is also a vice president in Kabila’s national-unity government, had done the same.Bemba, who was in the protection of the United Nations, was not immediately available for comment. The U.N. said all Congo army troops had been ordered back to their original positions and that the international troops would begin patrolling Kinshasa’s streets alongside Congo’s police Tuesday night.A Congo military official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to prohibitions on dealing with the media, said 14 people died Sunday and Monday in the clashes: seven security force personnel and seven civilians.Congo’s war-battered people denounced the fighting between the candidates’ supporters in the postwar military, saying they wanted democracy over more armed struggle.”They need to give people the voice, that is why we had elections,” said Rousse Intonda, 28 and unemployed, standing in the mostly empty streets after the battle near Bemba’s house. “I am not happy about this.”Fusalba said 180 German and Irish troops arrived Tuesday in Kinshasa from Gabon, joining a contingent of 50 French, Portuguese and Swedish troops who had arrived overnight with attack and transport helicopters.About 1,000 EU troops are already in Congo, on hand to help a 17,500-strong U.N. peace force overseeing the first elections in 45 years of coups, corrupt rule and war. Fusalba said the EU troops were on standby, awaiting any call from the U.N. for help. The mandate for the EU force is not to provide general security in Congo, but to act as a rapid reaction force.Swing, the chief of the U.N. peace mission in Congo, urged the two candidates facing off in a second round of balloting Oct. 29 to meet for talks.”It is imperative that the fighting ends immediately and that the two candidates in the presidential election meet each other urgently for the well-being of the democratic process and above all for the Congolese population that has already suffered too much from armed conflict,” Swing said.In response, a Bemba party spokesman said no meeting had been proposed, while a top Kabila aide said the two candidates had been in constant contact. “President Kabila speaks to Vice President Bemba every day,” said Kikaya bin Karubi.Meanwhile, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, called on both candidates to refrain from further provocation and violence.EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called Kabila and Bemba to express his “deep concern after the unacceptable events” of the past two days, according to a statement. He urged both to run a “responsible electoral campaign centered on the concerns and hopes of the Congolese for a peaceful and stable country.”Also Tuesday, Air France and SN Brussels announced they were suspending air service to Kinshasa, with SN Brussels saying it turned back a flight Monday bound for the Congolese capital.With 16.9 million votes cast in the July 30 balloting, Kabila won 45 percent, to 20 percent for Bemba, who is also a vice president in Kabila’s transitional administration. The remainder of the vote was shared among 31 other candidates.The elections were meant to end years of unrest that began shortly after independence from Belgium in 1960. Congo’s last multiparty vote for a leader was in 1961. The winner was killed as military regimes took power.
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