Security high in DRC ahead of electoral-challenge ruling

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and United Nations security forces were out in strength on Monday in a tense Kinshasa ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on an electoral challenge by losing presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Dozens of riot police were on guard around the Foreign Ministry, where the court has worked since its building was partly burned during a violent protest by supporters of Vice-President Bemba on November 21.

Bemba, a former rebel leader who has contested the provisional result of the presidential election he lost to the incumbent Joseph Kabila, has condemned the violence, but his backers and troops in his guard have been involved in bloody clashes in the capital three times since August.

The Supreme Court is due, at 5pm local time, to hand down its ruling on Bemba’s challenge to the outcome of the October 29 run-off round of voting in the vast DRC, devastated by decades of corrupt rule and war.

Kabila, who has since 2003 headed a transitional regime including his former rebel foes as well as the political opposition, won roughly 2,6-million votes more than Bemba, according to final provisional figures released by the Independent Electoral Commission.

The commission gave Kabila 58,05% of the votes against 41,95% for Bemba, a wealthy businessman from the northern Equateur province who has strong support in the west of the country, including Kinshasa, while Kabila is popular in the east.

Once it has ruled on Bemba’s suit, the court is due to proclaim the winner of the DRC’s first presidential poll by universal suffrage, the culmination of the first free elections in 41 years.

But the country is still not at peace.

While DRC government troops and armoured vehicles of the UN mission in the DRC (Monuc) stood guard with police over the foreign ministry and buildings including foreign embassies in Kinshasa’s Gombe district, Monuc soldiers far across the country opened fire on troops serving a dissident general.

Two divisions backing General Laurent Nkunda on Saturday attacked the regular army in Sake, a town near the Nord-Kivu Province capital of Goma on the border with Rwanda. UN forces who held part of Sake launched counter-attacks on Monday after they came directly under fire, Monuc said.

Three provinces in the east of the mineral-rich DRC are still affected by violence in the wake of a 1998 to 2003 war that engulfed the whole country after the 1997 ouster of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Kabila became president during that conflict after his father, Laurent Kabila, was murdered in 2001, and engaged in a peace process monitored by the UN to end the conflict that had dragged in the armies of more than half a dozen other countries on rival sides.

The presidential poll follows parliamentary elections in July and led in August to clashes in central Kinshasa between Bemba’s guard of about 1 000 men and Kabila’s troops, in which at least 23 people were killed. Twice this month, violence has flared again, claiming four lives and heightening tensions.

The presence in the city of heavily armed troops in Bemba’s security detail has been a constant concern, but between 85 and 100 of the 1 000 soldiers have pulled out of the capital since last Thursday, according to different military and diplomatic sources involved in talks to keep the peace.—Sapa-AFP

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