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Congo: foreign combatants not threat to elections

DR Congo: foreign combatants “not a threat” to upcoming elections

Some of the 8,000 foreign combatants that remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after its devastating civil war represent a menace to civilians, but they do not seriously threaten a successful outcome for the historic national elections planned for 30 July, according to the assessment of a United Nations official.

“The remaining Rwandan and Ugandan combatants in the DRC do not pose a serious military threat either to the DRC electoral process, or to their countries of origin,” said Peter Swarbrick, director of the demobilization and repatriation programmes of the UN Organization Mission in the Congo (MONUC), which is participating in the largest election support effort ever undertaken by the world organization.

“But some do threaten the Congolese civilian population and represent an irritant between the DRC and some neighbouring states,” he added.

Most of the fighters that remain are in North and South Kivu and are members of militias that left Rwanda during and after the 1994 genocide in that country, as well as a small number of Ugandans.

Almost all Burundian fighters are among the 9,500 that have been repatriated, along with many of the Rwandans and Ugandans, MONUC said. Repatriation activities involve contacting foreign combatants through radio broadcasts and other outreach activities. MONUC gives those who wish to be repatriated a one-way passage home, where they may enter reintegration programmes supported by the World Bank and other donor partners.

Though the Rwandans that remain are regularly accused of murder, rape and looting against the Congolese civilian population, many have married local women and are living relatively peaceful lives as farmers and traders, MONUC said, and are not about to disrupt the election process.

“We believe that the newly-elected DRC Government will resolve the problem once it has established full political and military authority over its territory and cooperative relations with its neighbours,” Mr. Swarbrick said.

Also today, MONUC said it has stepped up demining operations in the eastern DRC on the eve of the elections, particularly in Ituri province.

In the past week, teams have been sent out to several sites in the province, destroying explosive mines as well as unexploded ordinance and carrying out mine education activities.

Finally, in its most recent human rights report, covering the month of June, MONUC affirms that the repression of demonstrations and other incidents in the DRC are a threat to a “free and fair” vote.

In the report, released this past weekend, it says police used excessive force during a 12 June political demonstration in the capital city, Kinshasa, while during a march on 30 June in the city, non-governmental observers reported 53 arrests and nine injured.

The mission maintains police have also been involved in repressing freedom of expression in Maniema and Kasai Occidental provinces.

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