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EU Peacekeepers Intervene for First Time in DR Congo

DW staff (kjb)
August 22, 2006

Skirmishes between President Kabila's troops and rebel fighters began Sunday when election results were announced. EU and UN troops stepped in when the fighting escalated and foreign diplomats were caught under fire.

Some 300 EU and UN soldiers defended over a dozen foreign diplomats MondayImage: AP

Members of the European peacekeeping force EUFOR in DR Congo saw action for the first time Monday night when they escorted over a dozen foreign diplomats from the home of rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba under heavy fire from President Joseph Kabila's personal guard.

Fighting broke out Sunday in the capital city of Kinshasa directly after the election results were announced.

Peacekeepers seek to quell unrest

Some German soldiers were already on duty in the Congolese capital due to the unrest and more were en route from their headquarters in Gabun, Admiral Henning Bess, head of Germany's EUFOR contingent, told Reuters.

Stichwahl im Kongo - Kabila gegen Bemba
President Joseph Kabila (r) and opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba will face each other in round twoImage: picture alliance /dpa

Foreign diplomats, including high-ranking officials from the US, French and South African embassies and representatives of the UN and EU peacekeeping forces, held an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the crisis.

When they followed up the session with a visit to Bemba's personal residence on the Congo River, they encountered a good half hour of heavy bombardment from Kabila's followers, "probably from antiaircraft guns, rocket launchers, and heavy machine gun fire," one diplomat told AFP.

EU and UN troops bring diplomats to safety

Some 150 Uruguayan troops from MONUC (the UN mission to DC Congo) were assisted by around 150 Spanish EUFOR soldiers. They escorted the diplomats together to MONUC headquarters in armored vehicles.

Some 2,000 EUFOR troops, including nearly 800 from Germany, joined 17,000 UN soldiers to secure the first free presidential elections in over 40 years in DR Congo.

The German-led EU mission is initially planned for four months. German soldiers were not involved in Monday's scuffle.

Second round election in October

The results of the July elections were announced Sunday. None of the 33 presidential candidates came away with a clear majority, though Kabila took the most votes, with 45 percent. He and Bemba, who received 20 percent of the vote, will participate in a run-off election at the end of October.

Bundeswehr-Soldaten im Kongo
Germany is leading the EUFOR peacekeeping missionImage: picture-alliance / dpa

An officer from the international peacekeeping forces told AFP that members of Kabila's presidential guard were responsible for the clash.

Congolese information minister Henri Mova Sakanyi disagreed, saying, "It all started with the abduction of two members of the Republican Guard from the premises of Bemba's private residence."

Since hostilities broke out Sunday, at least 25 people have been killed and Kabila's presidential soldiers have taken control of the Kinshasa airport, according to reports.