DR Congo

Congo's Kabila calls for calm despite election delay

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By Barry Moody and David Lewis KINSHASA, June 10 (Reuters) - President Joseph Kabila appealed to Congolese on Friday to stay calm and resist attempts to provoke violent protests over the postponement of elections scheduled for the end of June.

In a Reuters interview, Kabila said the Democratic Republic of Congo must put years of conflict behind it and build on a 2003 peace deal ending a civil war in which around 4 million people died, mostly from hunger and disease.

"What could be more important for me to say than to ask the Congolese people to remain calm? People should be much more vigilant than to let themselves be carried away by adventurers who don't mean to do any good for this country or for the people," said Kabila, 34.

"I hope there won't be trouble. We are working in order for there not to be trouble precisely because the Congolese people don't want any trouble," said Kabila, who took over after his father Laurent was assassinated by a bodyguard in 2001.

Elections were scheduled to be held by June 30 under a deal ending the five-year civil war and setting up a transitional government comprising the former combatants and the political opposition.

But all sides now agree that the vast country the size of Western Europe is nowhere near ready to organise elections and they are unlikely before a final deadline of June 2006.

The delay has provoked fears of protests and riots in Kinshasa and other cities around June 30, as occurred in January in the capital when it first emerged a postponement was likely.

INCREASED TENSION

Continued economic hardship despite Congo's vast mineral riches, brutal insurgencies by armed groups in the east and a collapse of infrastructure in the chaotic capital have stoked tensions among up to 9 million people living there.

Diplomats and Congolese say many Kinshasa inhabitants and foreigners have begun leaving the country because of fears of violence before or after the June 30 deadline.

In another sign of nervousness about unrest this month, the Congolese army has drafted more troops into the city and military helicopters flew low over Kinshasa earlier this week.

Kabila warned that while peaceful political debate would be allowed, the government would not tolerate violence.

"People are free to express their views and their opinions -- be it on the radio, on TV, in party meetings -- that freedom is guaranteed by our constitution. But of course the government won't let a situation of chaos develop in our country. That's out of the question."

Kabila said the two-year transition scheduled under the peace deal was unrealistic.

"I believe when people were negotiating ... they were carried away in the sense that they did not take into account the difficulties that were going to be encountered." He noted that democratic elections had not been held in Congo for more than 40 years and it was a major challenge to organise them in such a huge nation. "But we are up to that challenge."

Kabila said some members of the transitional government and the opposition did not want elections soon.

"They are not willing, they are not prepared -- that is why everybody is looking for an argument to stop the whole process, which is not what we want."

Western diplomats and ordinary Congolese suggest some members of the transitional government want to keep their lucrative positions as long as possible before handing over to an elected administration.

Kabila called on United Nations peacekeepers to act more robustly against armed groups in the east, particularly Rwandan Hutu rebels if they refused to lay down their weapons and return home as they have promised.

He said if the FDLR rebels, who include leaders accused of participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, did not cross into Rwanda his army would forcibly disarm them.

Kabila also accused the international community of not giving enough support to a campaign to integrate former rebel fighters into a unified army.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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