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British minister urges Congo to pay its soldiers

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KINSHASA, 3 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - British Development Secretary Hilary Benn has urged the Congolese government to pay its soldiers in order to ensure security during the country's electoral process.

Benn, who was on a two-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), made the suggestion on Thursday at a meeting with President Joseph Kabila in Lubumbashi, the economic capital of the southeastern part of the country. He later left for Burundi.

"We spoke about the ongoing integration of the soldiers and the necessity to pay them so that the army can secure the electoral process," he told reporters.

Soldiers in the country do not receive salaries regularly.

The UN Mission in the DRC has urged the Congolese authorities to facilitate the payment of soldiers, especially those in the more remote parts of the country.

However, the authorities have not responded to this request.

Benn praised the improvements made in the electoral process. Some 19 million voters have already been registered countrywide, a move Benn described as a "great success". The country is currently under a transition, with general elections scheduled for 2006.

"Great Britain is willing to support the electoral process and to assist the DRC government in its fight against poverty in the long term," he said.

The UK, through its ministry for international cooperation, granted the DRC $80 million in 2005. Of this, $40 million would be used for the elctions, Benn said.

The UK also supports humanitarian, health and security areas, as well as the country's transition institutions.


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