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Germany

Germans Enjoy Good Reputation Among Congolese

People in Congo were happy to hear that German soldiers will be among those headed to Congo as part of the EU force keeping the peace during the country's first free elections.

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The Congolese are pleased a power without colonial links will also be stationed in the country

Everything needs to be ready in two and half months when 25 million people will head to the polls in the Democratic Republic of Congo to chose among the 33 people running for president and 10,000 candidates looking for a seat in parliament.

In a country without a voting record, fears are high that some candidates may turn to violence should they be denied office. That's one reason why many people in Congo are relieved to hear that Germany has decided to send troops as part of the EU mission to ensure a peaceful election.

Kongo französische Soldaten im Provinz Ituri

The EU force will support UN peacekeepers already in Congo

"The Congolese people are especially happy that Germans are taking on an important role, because Germany has a good reputation in contrast with other European countries," said Saleh Mwana Milongo, a Congolese journalist.

People are more skeptical of the French troops, who will also make up a large portion of the EU troops, because they are seen as supporting particular candidates, one of the reason why some candidates called for limited French and Belgian participation in the mission, Milongo added.

Unease over troops' neutrality

France and Belgium were once colonial powers in Congo and both are still often blamed by Congolese looking for an explanation of why the large country, rich in natural resources has hardly developed after 66 years of independence.

A number of observers are especially concerned French troops, despite the protestations of neutrality, may lend their support to ruling President Joseph Kabila. Some Congolese also doubt if European troops will actually be able to ensure safety during the elections, according to Milongo.

Kongo Flughafen Kinshasa

Most the European troops will be based in the Congolese capital

"The positioning of the soldiers alone -- namely at the Kinshasa airport -- has people nervous," he said. "They say, 'Maybe the Europeans are afraid what could happen here and are planning for their own safety and how to get out the other white people who live here.'"

The relatively small number of troops in the area is another common concern. About 1,500 soldiers will support the 18,000 soldiers in the United Nations' MONUC peacekeeping mission with about two-thirds of the European contingent stationed in Gabun. Congo's Foreign Minister Raymond Ramazani Baya, however, said he does not see the number of troops as a problem.

Congolese positive about elections

"They are mostly in Kinshasa and near the capital and will be able to keep an eye on only about half the country, and that will be enough," he said. "We also have the MONUC troops and our own army. The Europeans are only coming to help us make sure chaos does not break out."

The government does not see a danger of violence engulfing the country, Baya added.

Kinshasa Kongo

People in Kinshasa hope for free and fair elections that end peacefully

But many people on the street are afraid of exactly that and wondering what good troops at the airport will be as daily reports of militia attacks reach the capital from the country's eastern reaches, according to Milongo.

Still, most of the population is optimistic about the elections, he added.

"A lot of people hope these elections will end the chaos and unrest in the country," he said. "With a democratically elected government the West will be able to support use with a good conscience. That is the reason why it is so important that the elections are free and fair."

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