As the United Nations Mission in the strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reinforced security and placed military observers throughout the vast country ahead of Sunday's run-off presidential election, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today expressed deep concern at the increasing level of violence.
"The Secretary-General urges the Congolese people and, in particular, the presidential candidates, to take all possible steps to ensure that the elections are conducted in an atmosphere of calm and that the process is transparent and free," he said in a statement on the contest between President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, the final stage of the largest and most complex elections the UN has ever helped organize.
"The overwhelming majority of the Congolese people are determined to exercise their democratic right to freely elect their leaders through participation in the polling. And the successful holding of peaceful and credible elections is vital for future peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo," he added.
Provincial assemblies will also be elected on Sunday, the closing chapter of an operation that began with first-round voting at the end of July and is aimed at cementing the DRC's transition from a six-year civil war, widely considered the most lethal fighting in the world since World War II, costing 4 million lives through fighting and attendant hunger and disease. Factional fighting has continued since then, particularly in the east.
Throughout the long election process, UN agencies have helped to deliver tens of millions of ballots and other supplies to some 50,000 polling stations, train 12,000 polling supervisors and plan for the safety of the 25.7 million Congolese registered to vote.
The UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, said results are expected on 19 November. Earlier this week it called on the two candidates to maintain the unity of the country both before and after the polls and not repeat the first round behaviour of unilaterally proclaiming themselves the winner.
Mr. Annan's Special Representative in the DRC, William Swing, met this week with Mr. Bemba to discuss security and public safety arrangements for a rally planned for today in Kinshasa. They also discussed broader security issues, including allegations of the discovery of unlawful weapons at the residence of an adviser to Mr. Bemba.
UN Force Commander Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye condemned a decision to prevent a UN weapons verification team from inspecting a logistical camp run by Mr. Kabila's supporters.
MONUC condemned isolated incidents of violence in Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, Lodja, Kinshasa and Kindu.