'Hundreds killed' in Congo fighting

First major clashes after last year's vote said to have "damaged democratic process".

    Aid groups say more than 100 people were killed by the time calm returned on Saturday.
    Machinegun fire and mortars rocked the riverside capital for two days before Bemba's forces were routed.
    Mortar rounds
    Thursday morning's shootout was followed by mortar fire that lasted through Friday night, when government forces regained control of the capital.
    Mortar rounds set fire to buildings, landing as far as 4km away in Brazzaville, the capital of the neighbouring Republic of Congo.

    EU envoys in Kinshasa on Tuesday condemned
    what they called premature use of force [AFP]

    It was the first fighting in Kinshasa since presidential elections last year - heavily financed by the international community and aimed at restoring peace to the mineral-rich central African state after a 1998-2003 war.
    The victory of Joseph Kabila, the incumbent president, was overwhelmingly accepted as legitimate by national and international elections observers monitoring DRCs first democratic polls in more than four decades.
    DRC authorities issued a warrant for Bemba's arrest for high treason during last week's violence and Kabila said on Monday that those behind the unrest would be hunted down, saying he had nothing to negotiate with Bemba.
    Bemba's account
    For his part, Bemba told AP by telephone from the South African embassy in Kinshasa, where he has taken refuge: "Eleven o'clock in the morning the firing started. It was something well prepared."
    He said two battalions of government troops surrounded his house before the firing started.
    "I have no idea" of a solution to the impasse, Bemba said, adding that he had little contact with the outside world since fleeing to the embassy with his wife and five children.
    'Democracy damaged'
    The EU ambassadors in Kinshasa issued a joint statement in which they condemned the "premature use of force".
    One diplomat said there had been "disproportionate use of military force".

    Bemba has taken refuge in the South African
    embassy in Kinshasa [AFP]

    Andy Sparkes, the British ambassador, said the violence had damaged the democratic process.
    "This is not necessarily the death, but the process is seriously wounded," he said.
    "We want to see a real re-engagement on the part of the authorities to accept the legitimate and important role of the political opposition.
    "Mr Bemba, in an election we consider credible, won 42 per cent of votes ... The security of this country is, to some extent, linked to what happens to Mr Bemba."
    The EU sent a special military mission to the country to ensure voting in last year's polls was not disrupted by violence, but it left a few weeks after the last vote.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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