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UN mediates in aftermath of conflict in Mbuji-Mayi

KINSHASA, 24 May 2005 (IRIN) - The UN is mediating among political parties in Mbuji-Mayi, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo's Kasai Oriental Province, following last week's violence.

The UN Mission in the country, known as MONUC, sent additional peacekeepers to the city on Friday to beef up security.

"MONUC finds it necessary to have a stronger presence to help diffuse this crisis as well as to ensure against similar crises in the future," Mamady Kouyate, the head of the mediation effort for MONUC, told IRIN on Monday.

Violent demonstrations last week left at least two people dead and 12 others wounded. The offices of all the main political parties in the province were ransacked and burned.

One of the parties is veteran opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi's l'Union pour la democratie et le progres Social (UDPS); another is President Joseph Kabila's Parti du peuple pour la reconstruction et le developpement, and a third is Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba's Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo.

UDPS Secretary-General Remy Masamba accused local authorities of setting fire to the party's office during a curfew. He also said the police made arbitrarily arrests of UDPS members and mistreated them.

Speaking from Mbuji-Mayi on Monday, Masamba told IRIN that according to witnesses, the Kasai Oriental governor, Dominique Kanku, was directly responsible for the damage. He said UDPS would file a lawsuit against Kanku.

However, Kanku denied Masamba's accusations.

Kanku said either the UDPS "burned their own offices" or members of other parties did it in reprisal. Most of Tuesday's demonstrators were members of the UPDS, he said.

The protests were over an expected decision by the national assembly to postpone general elections. Kabila has announced that the elections, initially due in June, will now be held in the same month in 2006.

Kouyate said MONUC was organising a peace forum to be held in the coming weeks and that the three main parties had all agreed to take part.

One of the purposes of the forum would be to improve the conditions of the three million inhabitants of Mbuji-Mayi. Currently, less than 3 percent to 5 percent of the city's residents have water and electricity.

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