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04 Sep 2006: ISS Today: Congo Foes to Probe Battles, Aim For Calm Poll - UN
4 September 2006

04 September 2006: Congo Foes to Probe Battles, Aim For Calm Poll - UN
Reuters AlertNet

 

Congo`s presidential candidates have launched an inquiry into how their private armies came to fight battles in the capital last week and are working to ensure a run-off vote is peaceful, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

 

Under the aegis of MONUC, representatives for President Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel leader and Kabila`s challenger in a second round of voting, have set up a Joint Commission that met for the first time on 29 August. Two sub-commissions have been created: the first is an independent sub-commission of inquiry set up to establish the facts of what happened in Kinshasa between Aug. 20 and 22; the second will define the code of conduct for the election campaign.

 

Commentary

 

The warning signs were there: in the run up to the 30 July election, tensions in Kinshasa were running high and there were indications that a close result between Kabila and Bemba could lead to clashes in Kinshasa with both the Presidential Guard and Bemba`s protection element strengthening their forces during this period. The size of Kabila`s and Bemba`s personal armies, which are concentrated in Kinshasa, was a clear indication of what was to come. With this knowledge, could not a pro-active, high-density operation have prevented the violence that broke out in Kinshasa between 20 and 22 August? The clashes between President Joseph Kabila`s guards and supporters of Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba broke out after neither candidate secured 50 percent of the votes in the country`s July 30 election, forcing a second round of voting. Kabila won almost 45 percent of the vote, while Bemba garnered just over 20 percent.  

 

The Congolese Police, MONUC and EUFOR had enough manpower and equipment to have controlled the inner city and key points such as the Electoral building (CEI), the airport, the residences of both Kabila and Bemba the port, broadcasting centre and communication installations. The concept of pro-active operations by MONUC`s Eastern Brigade is as an example of the positive role that can be played in ensuring a peaceful pre- and post-election period. The question was again asked by the Congolese - surely the deployment of EUFOR could have prevented this outbreak of violence. The sub-committee of inquiry set up to establish the facts of what happened in Kinshasa between 20 and 23 August will hopefully offer a satisfactory explanation.

 

The second sub-committee is responsible for defining the ground rules that will ensure that pre-election campaigning and the post-electoral period remain calm. Concern is focussed on the Presidential Guard and Bemba`s protection element. The South African government has warned that the Presidential Guard, in its current form, is not acceptable and it must become part of the demobilisation process. This has been ignored. It is important for the sub-committee to deal with this issue. Both the Presidential Guard and Bemba`s protection elements must now be confined to barracks; if not the period in the run up to 29 October may very well see more clashes between these two groups. It is important also to establish the mandate of the Presidential Guard: are they there to protect the President or are they responsible for maintaining law and order in the DRC? Does a Presidential Guard need RPG anti-tank rocket launchers, 14,5 mm Anti-Aircraft guns, armoured vehicles and tanks? The answers clearly must be no: public order is the responsibility of the Congolese Police.

 

This issue again emphasises the importance of completing the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration process in the DRC, which must include the Presidential Guard and elements of Bemba`s protection force. This process must be addressed as a matter of urgency to ensure that the peace process in the DRC becomes a success story.     

 

Efforts also need to focus on building alliances across the political spectrum and on keeping all players inside the political process, especially those who have lost in these historic elections and those who opted out of elections altogether.

 

Henri Boshoff, African Security Analysis Programme, ISS Pretoria

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