Joint patrols to enforce arms ban in Kinshasa

“These patrols will stop fighting breaking out between [anyone’s] guards,” Lt Col Christian Lescoffit, the military spokesman for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as MONUC, said.

When results from the first round of election results were announced on 20 August, guards of President Joseph Kabila and his rival, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, fought for three days in Kinshasa, killing at least 23 people.

The new, well-armed patrols, comprising up to 248 police and military personnel, operate citywide, Lescoffit said, removing weapons from anyone who does not possess them legally.

An independent military analyst in Kinshasa, Jacques Ebenga, said on Tuesday the joint patrols could be enough to dissuade any armed group from launching an attack. “The [joint patrols] have armoured vehicles and heavy machine guns to ensure that anyone with kalashnikovs is not going to lose his head,” Ebenga said. An EU force with a robust mandate was ready to intervene, he added.

The two presidential hopefuls, who are now set for a run-off election on the 29 October, agreed to the joint patrols on 23 September. They have also agreed to keep their guards off the streets during the election period and to form joint monitoring patrols with MONUC and the European Union force.

However, according to a report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) on Monday, no agreement was reached on the number of personal guards the two candidates could have during the campaign and whether they could carry guns. “This means that the mechanisms currently in place, such as the joint patrols, have a limited impact,” the ICG said.

The ICG said there is still a possibility of further fighting, particularly around 19 November, when the presidential winner is expected to be announced.

“A major stumbling block remains the presidential guard, whose deployment in Kinshasa gives Kabila a decisive edge in any military confrontation,” the ICG said.

According to the 2003 peace agreement that officially ended the armed conflict in the country, the rebel leaders were only allowed up to 108 bodyguards each.

“However, it was conspicuously silent on the size of the presidential guard [that] continues to operate outside the normal chains of military command and civilian authority,” the ICG said.

“Kabila, of course, has military strength to challenge an unfavourable result and, as the fighting in Kinshasa has proven, is ready to use it,” the ICG said.

The ICG also predicted violence if Bemba loses. It said: “While his troops are no match for Kabila’s in Kinshasa, Bemba’s popularity has increased exponentially in past months due to the anti-Kabila sentiment in the capital and the 20 August affair. He is also said to be close to hundreds of the late President Mobutu’s former soldiers, who returned from Brazzaville recently and resent Kabila, and have begun organising street gangs, who might provoke urban unrest if he loses.”

The ICG called on the EU to bring in reinforcements from Gabon “in order to have at least 1,000 combat troops in Kinshasa”. ‘ IRIN.

October 2006
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