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1,300 international observers for polls

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BRUSSELS, 28 Jul 2006 (IRIN) - At least 1,300 international observers will be deployed all over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during Sunday's elections, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

"I really feel part of a historic moment in this country. It is such a big event," Albert von Hal, one of the observers, said on Friday in the capital, Kinshasa. "We were amazed when we came across the banners everywhere, at the scale of the whole thing."

He added: "Our group is here at the invitation of local civil society [Cadre de Concertation de la Société Civil pour l'observation des élections] and we are very happy to be here."

UNDP and the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) are concluding the training of 12,000 polling centre supervisors at 210 regional training sites, who will assist local staff in organising "fair and transparent elections", the UNDP said in a statement on Wednesday.

The international observers are in addition to the tens of thousands Congolese observers from civil society. The Congolese churches plan to deploy 50,000 observers, according to the Rev Milenge Mwenalwata of the Church of Christ in Congo, a member of the Federation of Protestant Churches in the DRC.

Most of the international observers will be provided by the independent European mission financed by the European Commission. The team will include 100 long-term observers and 150 short-term observers as well as 50 locally recruited observers.

The core team of 13 people has been deployed since 9 June and is led by the European Member of Parliament Philippe Morillon, a retired general who commanded the UN force during the war in Bosnia.

The African Union, Africa's foremost political body, is providing 50 observers; the Southern African Development Community (SADC) 130 short-term and 15 medium-term observers; the Economic Community of Central African States 30 observers; the Carter Center 58 observers; the Francophonie 30 observers; and the Electoral Institute for Southern Africa 30 observers.

The US has sent a delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer to "underscore support for this historic transition". South Africa has 128 observers, Japan eight, and Belgium has sent its own observers. There are also 30 former and current Belgian Members of Parliament, under the aegis of the European Parliamentarians for Africa.

The UN Office for Project Services will coordinate the activities of the international observers.

The network of European NGOs active in Central Africa, known as Eurac, has 125 observers to reinforce the Cadre de concertation de la Société civile pour l'observation des élections - a platform implemented by Congolese civil society organisations to guarantee free, fair and transparent elections.

These European observers will be deployed to the DRC's 11 provinces, notably in the 64 liaison offices of the DRC's Independent Electoral Commission. Each team will be composed of one European and one Congolese observer.

"It's our way to pay tribute to the Congolese civil society's work during all the war and the long electoral process," said Arnaud Gorgemans, the Eurac director.

These NGO observers have arrived in Congo and already received evaluation sheets. They will send their observations immediately after the vote to a call centre in the capital, Kinshasa.

[Countdown in Congo]


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