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UN Appeals For Calm Ahead Of Congo Elections

DR Congo: Amid Tensions Ahead Of Sunday’s Presidential Vote, UN Appeals For Calm

New York, Oct 26 2006 12:00PM

Amid tension ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections, the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has called on the two candidates to maintain the unity of the country both before and after the polls and not repeat the first round behaviour of unilaterally proclaiming themselves the winner.

“The whole world is looking at you; the Congolese are asking to be heard,” UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) deputy spokesperson Jean Tobie Okala told a news conference in Kinshasa, the capital, yesterday.

“They want to vote in peace and calm. Don’t deceive their expectations,” he said, calling on the candidates to appeal to their supporters to stay calm and disciplined.

The run-off between the two top candidates from the first round in July, President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, is the final stage of the largest and most complex elections the UN has ever helped organize and is aimed at cementing the vast country’s transition from a six-year civil war.

Mr. Okala condemned isolated incidents of violence such as those in Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, Lodja, Kinshasa and Kindu. “The violent acts have never been the solution to solve problems,” he said. “Violence is the opposite of democracy, the political system chosen by the Congolese.”

The director of MONUC’s Human Rights Division (DDH), Fernando Castañon, voiced concern at the escape of more than 20 inmates from Mbandaka prison, including five condemned in April for crimes against humanity for massive rape in 2003 in Songo Mboyo, when members of an army battalion formed from an ex-rebel group collectively raped at least 119 women a΅d girls, many less than 18 years old.

The DDH also asked the Congolese government to urgently take the necessary measures in order to reinforce security in prisons and detention centres where there are risks of escape.

The Division called on the Congolese people to participate in the poll with a spirit of calm, respect and tolerance. “This is a decisive moment in the history of the country and DDH deeply wishes that the Congolese would be able to exercise their right to vote freely,” Mr. Castañon said.

Throughout the long election process, UN agencies have helped to deliver tens of millions of ballots and other supplies to some 50,000 polling stations, train 12,000 polling supervisors and plan for the safety of the 25.7 million Congolese registered to vote.

The civil war officially ended in 1999 and cost 4 million lives through fighting and attendant hunger and disease, widely considered the most lethal fighting in the world since World War II, but factional fighting has continued since then, particularly in the eastern provinces.

Ends

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