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German Soldiers Caught in Middle of Congo Protest

DW staff (th)
July 26, 2006

A German military van was attacked during a violent political demonstration in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa Tuesday. A central opposition parties wants the coming election to be postponed.

The situation is tense in Congo in the lead up to the elections SundayImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Protesters broke the front and rear windows of the German military's Volkswagen bus as it drove towards Kinshasa from the airport. Militants from the country's main opposition party, had blocked the highway to protest the upcoming Sunday election.

The tense situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo comes as the country readies itself for its first democratic elections in more than four decades. The European Union has sent 2,000 troops to the area to bolster the 17,000 United Nations peacekeeping force already there. The European security contingent includes 780 German soldiers.

Kongo - Bundeswehr Einsatz
Almost 800 Gerrman soldiers are part of a EU peacekeeping force thereImage: AP

Foreign soldiers have encountered distrust from Congolese, who blame Europeans for many of the country's problems. Congo gained its independence from Belgium in 1960, but has struggled economically despite valuable natural resources.

No specific targets

Yet the Tuesday attack did not appear specifically directed against foreign troops. Numerous vehicles in the area were damaged by demonstrators. Protestors also hit passers-by, destroyed political banners and threw stones at security forces, according to press reports.

''Two demonstrators smashed the windows with a wooden pole,'' German Lieutenant Colonel Peter Fuss said Tuesday.

The three German soldiers were able to continue their drive to headquarters despite the damage to their vehicle, according to Fuss.

Main opposition party to boycott election

Wahlkampf im Kongo trotz Boykott der Opposition
Many continue to support Kabila's ahead of the electionImage: PA/dpa

Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi's party, the UDPS, has boycotted the June 30 election. The party has staged several angry protests in the capital, all of which have been harshly stopped by police.

''The international community says this is a new stage in Congo's history but we think the atmosphere is tense and dangerous,'' said Remy Masamba, secretary-general of the UDPS party.

''We want the elections to be delayed so they can be more inclusive and transparent," he added.

The UDPS accused the international community of supporting current President Joseph Kabila and want the vote to be delayed to deal with possible fraud. Kabila is seen as the frontrunner among the 32 Congolese presidential candidates.