D.R. Congo headed for historic elections

All Africa.com reports: "The election in Democratic Republic of the Congo will be the most expensive to be supported by the United Nations (UN), costing the international community as much as $400m to give the country a new start.

"On Sunday, more than 25-million registered voters will go to the polls to elect a president and parliamentary representatives.

"Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is considered a favourite, though yesterday opposition demonstrators rioted in the capital, pulling down his campaign posters.

"Foreign troops, including 780 from Germany, are on the ground to help quell violence.

"German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany saw the election as a chance for lasting peace in Congo.

"There are 17,000 UN Mission to the Congo troops in the country, helping to disarm militias and preparing for the election. But this force does not have the best reputation in Congo. It was not able to prevent civilian massacres in 2003 and its members have been accused of sexually exploiting local women and girls.

"But what matters to the Congolese are the elections, on which many are setting great hopes.

"Too great a hope, say many political analysts. 'The expectations are about as great as shortly before independence,' says one western diplomat. 'This can lead to bitter disappointments in a few months.'

"The country has almost no experience with democracy, and the role of the opposition is still uncertain. The government is the result of negotiations that in 2002 ended the five-year civil war. Kabila has so far governed with four vice-presidents who represent the interests of former warring parties.









"In the mineral-rich east of the country, militias are still active and terrorise the population.

"Government critics suggest there are some in power who have an interest in keeping the conflict alive so they can use the chaos as cover to do a lucrative business in raw materials in the region.

"UN officials in Bukavu said, however, that the run-up to the election was on track.

"'The situation is normal. There are pockets of insecurity and the situation is not perfect but we are hopeful the election will go ahead without disruption,' UN spokeswoman Jacqueline Chenard said.

"'People should be able to cast their ballots as planned.'

"Posing the greatest threat to the election is a force of about 2000 under the command of renegade Gen Laurent Nkunda, an estranged member of RCD-Goma. RCD-Goma was a main player in the civil war, when it was backed by Rwanda.

"RCD-Goma itself retains significant military power, but it is disproportionate to the party's electoral base, so there are concerns the elections may persuade other dissatisfied RCD-Goma members to throw in their lot with Nkunda."

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