Congo: Presidential Elections Turn into Civil War


: Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

March 30, 2007: In the town of Gbadolite, 225 fighters loyal to presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba handed in their weapons to the army. Another group of 140 had turned in weapons on March 27, in Kinshasha. These fighters will have the opportunity to join the Congolese Army. The army's attack on Bemba (on March 22) appeared to have been premature, as there were opportunities for the government to use political and diplomatic means to resolve the stand off in Kinshasha.

March 29, 2007: Some 600 people may have been killed in the Kinshasha fighting between the army (loyal to President Joseph Kabila) and fighters loyal to opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. The worst fighting occurred from March 22 to March 25. European diplomats are making a concerted effort to protect Bemba. Forcing him into exile is not viewed as the best option for promoting democratic change in the Congo. On diplomat pointed out that Bemba won 42 percent of the vote in the presidential election. Bemba has a substantial following in the country. Sending Bemba into exile could re-ignite the civil war in the Congo. At the present time Bemba is in the South African embassy. The Congo government, however, isn't conciliatory. Kabila has accused Bemba of "high treason."

March 26, 2007: The situation in Kinshasha remains tense after three days of fighting between supporters of Jean-Pierre Bemba and the army. UN troops in armored personnel carriers are reportedly patrolling Kinshasha's neighborhoods.

March 23, 2007: Fighting broke out yesterday between opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba's forces and the army. The army gave Bemba's supporters a deadline for disarming and they refused. Bemba's supporters say that Bemba has the right to have (and demonstrably needs) "an appropriate personal guard." Bemba may have at least 400 fighters in Kinshasha (and many more in the western Congo). The fighting has been heavy, including mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenade fire as well as exchanges of light and heavy automatic weapons fire. Both sides reportedly had heavy machine guns in positions around Bemba's residence in Kinshasha. UN troops in armored personnel carriers have taken up positions around the city but have not intervened. The peacekeepers have reportedly contacted diplomats in Kinshasha and will help evacuate the diplomatic community should the street fighting spread. The UN is also negotiating with Bemba and a senior Congolese government representative to end the fighting.


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