Friday, October 20, 2006

European military to reinforce DRC presence

Oct 19 2006 Sapa-AFP report via IOL
Kinsasha - A European Union military force deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ahead of landmark elections will augment its number to almost 1 500 men at the weekend, it announced on Thursday.

EUFOR spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thierry Fusalba said 200 Dutch and German soldiers currently based in Gabon will fly to the DRC capital Kinshasa between on Friday and the start of next week.

"This doesn't mean EUFOR has received intelligence leading to fear of trouble," Fusalba said. "It's a precautionary measure to be sure we're ready for anything."

Voters in the huge central African country will go to the polls on October 29 for the last round of a presidential election in which the incumbent Joseph Kabila faces a strong challenge from former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. The poll is the culmination of a difficult transition to democracy.

Violent confrontations between Kabila and Bemba supporters have taken place daily, leaving at least half a dozen people injured, in different towns across the nation since the final part of the campaign began last weekend.

The EUFOR operation currently consists of about 1 200 troops in Kinshasa and a standby force of roughly the same number in Gabon. They were deployed with a UN mandate to keep the peace in the capital, easing the burden of the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC).

EUFOR troops did intervene in Kinshasa when heavy fighting erupted between armed supporters of Kabila and Bemba on August 21 in the capital after results of the first round were issued.

Those clashes claimed 23 lives and German reinforcements were flown in from Gabon, but they took 24 hours and Fusalba said that operation was too long. The extra troops were coming to "shorten the delay in intervention".

The MONUC force is the largest UN mission in the world and includes 17 600 troops, 80 percent of whom are now deployed in the more volatile east of the DRC, where mobile operational bases have been reinforced.

MONUC has been monitoring and supporting a drawn-out peace process in the country since before it emerged in 2003 from the last of successive conflicts. The 1998-2003 war drew in the armies of more than half a dozen countries and directly or indirectly claimed more than three million lives.