August 4, 2006: Call it more than typical Congolese chaos. Congo vote-counters are examining warehouses of paper ballots from the July 30 national elections. Ballots from 50,000 voting places are being counter in 62 centers. The UN initially said the election results could be announced August 20. The latest estimate is it will take three weeks to count the votes (pushing the date to at least August 25), and that may be optimistic. There are already charges of fraud because of the slow-pace of the counting and the lack of control over the ballots. Challenger (and former rebel leader) Jean-Pierre Bemba has declared himself winner. Current President Joseph Kabila's supporters claim Kabila won the election (shades of Mexico's current electoral standoff). Still, there are some reasons for optimism. The election came off with comparatively little violence. The presence of UN and European peacekeepers is credited with minimizing the violence �" at least minimizing violence so far.
August 2, 2006: The UN warned against "premature" announcements of election victory. The UN statement said that the results of the July 30 election would take time. Voter turnout was estimated as being "high" but no official figures were available. A UN spokesman pointed out that Congo is the size of western Europe and that collecting the ballots in a nation with few roads (ie, poor transportation infrastructure) complicated the ballot collecting process. A European Union spokesman said that initial reports from European election observers were positive. The election appeared to have been "free and peaceful."
August 1, 2006: International journalists reported meeting with Ugandan LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony in the Garamba Forest (northeast DRC, near Sudan border). Kony told the journalists that his offer of peace talks with Uganda was "genuine." The journalists said that some people attending the meeting were escorted by Sudanese SPLA fighters (Sudan Peoples Liberation Army). Several sources reported that the meeting definitely occurred inside Congolese territory. Uganda has repeatedly accused Congo of failing to arrest LRA rebels in Congo and of allowing the LRA to have base camps on Congolese territory. In January UN peacekeepers launched a series of raids into the Garamba forest area, allegedly against LRA base camps.
Two renegade militias operating in Congo are still recruiting members. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC) have not disarmed or disbanded. Both the FDLR and the MRC are accused of "recruiting" child soldiers in ways reminiscent of Uganda's LRA. The children are kidnapped and used as arms and food carriers, though some are occasionally given weapons.
However, the MRC may be ready to make a deal with the government. The government attributed the MRC "deal" to the successful July 30 elections. The "deal" maybe both old news and slow news, since reported appeared in mid-July that the MRC would agree to "demobilize." The MRC said that "free and fair" elections were an MRC goal and the July 30 elections were a promising sign. The UN gave militias until July 15 to demobilize or face another UN "counter militia" offensive. The best bet is that the UN will prepare for counter-militia offensive operations but wait to see if the fact the elections were held without significant violence will help "coax" recalcitrant rebel groups in from the bush.
July 30, 2006: Congo conducted its first multi-arty election in over forty years. There were 33 candidates for president in the election.
July 28, 2006: An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operated by Belgian troops serving with EUFOR (European Forces peacekeeping mission in the Congo) crashed in Kinshasha. Five people were reportedly injured. EUFOR has 2200 troops deployed in and near the Congo (1200 EU troops are in Gabon serving as a rapid reaction force). On July 27 French jets supporting EUFOR reportedly over flew a compound where opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba was located. Riots broke out in the neighborhood around the compound and six people died.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)