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Voter registration begins in Kinshasa

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KINSHASA, 21 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Despite prevailing insecurity in the east and northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the postponement of presidential elections, the Independent Electoral Commission launched its registration campaign of 3.5 million voters in Kinshasa on Monday.

The three-week voter-registration process in the capital city is the first step of the nationwide registration programme, which will extend to other provinces in the next 45 days, starting with the Bas-Congo and Orientale provinces, said Apolinnaire Muholongu Malumalu, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission. The enrolment of voters in the North and South Kivus and Bandundu provinces would follow.

Before the registration could take place, the transitional government took measures to stabilise the capital city, where opposition groups threatened to protest against election delays.

On Friday, parliament extended the government's transition period by six months, at the request of the electoral commission, to allow for a constitutional referendum on 27 November. Opposition members in Kinshasa called on residents to demonstrate on 30 June, the original date designated as the end of the transition period under the current constitution.

As it stands, the elections originally scheduled for the end of June will probably be delayed until sometime between March and May 2006. In addition to accommodating the constitutional referendum, the extension period would give the electoral commission enough time to overcome logistical and security concerns ahead of the presidential polling, which would be the country's first in over 40 years.

"We have already secured Kinshasa by deploying police officers, and we have a plan to secure the rest of the country with 32,000 newly trained police, who will be supported by the army," Malumalu said.

The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and the countries of Angola, Belgium and France have helped train over 9,000 policemen who will be part of an integrated police force that is faced with the task of ensuring security leading up to and during the elections.

In addition, Angola, Belgium and South Africa have trained three army brigades, equivalent to some 9,720 soldiers.

Most of these soldiers and police have been deployed to the troubled northeastern district of Ituri, where remnants of armed groups continue to attack UN and Congolese troops, posing a danger to the electoral process.

So far, 16,000 militiamen have been disarmed in Ituri. Others continue to intimidate civilians, said MONUC military spokesman Col Thierry Provendier.

However, Interior Minister Theophile Mbemba believes that a coordinated security effort will guarantee free and fair elections in the DRC.

"Where the police are overwhelmed, the army can intervene," he said. "With this precaution we think we will be able to hold transparent, free and democratic elections."

For now, though, troops and police have yet to secure the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, where Rwandan Hutu rebels have been attacking Congolese residents. Local Mayi-Mayi militias also have been active. The armed forces chief of staff, Lt-Gen Kisempia Kisungilanga, said that the current level of insecurity could change as the next brigades of the new integrated army are deployed to the Kivus.

Some 9,000 voter-registration centres are due to open nationwide in the coming weeks. Donors will finance the lion's share of the process, which will cost US $430 million in all. The DRC government will contribute 10 percent.


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