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Voter registration starts in provinces outside capital

BUNIA, 26 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Registration of voters started on Monday in two provinces outside Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as preparations continued for general elections scheduled for 2006, officials said.

The two provinces are Oriental in the northeast and Bas Congo in the west.

"So far 10 out of 21 registration centres [in Bunia] are operational, and we are planning to open more," Apollinaire Malu Malu, president of the Independent Electoral Commission, told IRIN on Tuesday from Bunia.

Bunia is the capital of Ituri district in Oriental province - a district where armed groups have continued to fight against each other and to attack civilians.

A Moroccan contingent from the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) is providing security to Bunia. In June fighting occurred just 25 km south of the capital, around the village of Medu.

Thousands of civilians in the district have been displaced by fighting. Malu Malu said many of them had no identity cards or other recognised forms of identification.

"We are therefore asking that they come with at least one other person who can identify them," he said.

Another problem, according to MONUC sources, was that representatives of political parties had not come to the centres to monitor the process.

"It would be unfortunate if they complain of possible cases of fraud when they do not send their representatives to observe what is happening," Dominique McAdams, head of MONUC in Ituri, said.

Countrywide, Malu Malu said, some 2.7 million voters had been registered since the process began on 20 June in Kinshasa. Registration centres would remain open in the capital until 31 July.

The polls would usher in the first democratic government in 40 years. It would replace the current transitional power-sharing administration agreed to by the armed groups in the country's civil war.

The elections were initially planned for June 2005 but the national assembly postponed them for at least six months. In early July, European donors and the DRC government committed themselves to provide 85 million ($100 million) for the election process.

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