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Soldier kills two polling clerks in Ituri

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©  Stuart Price/IRIN

Petronille Vaweka, Ituri District Administrative Officer

BUNIA, 30 Oct 2006 (IRIN) - A soldier in the Democratic Republic of Congo shot dead two polling clerks on Monday, raising the possibility of increased disturbances in the northeastern locality of Fatika where the incident occurred, Ituri District Administrative Officer Petronille Vaweka said.

The officials killed were residents of Fatika, 90 km northeast of Bunia, the main town in Ituri. Vaweka said the circumstances surrounding the shooting remained unclear but that the soldier had been arrested and would be handed over to the military judicial authorities.

She said irate members of the public burnt down one polling station in the locality.

Voting began on Sunday in a second-round presidential poll pitting incumbent President Joseph Kabila, 35, against one of the country's four vice-presidents, Jean-Pierre Bemba, 44.

A clerk at the Bunia office of the national Independent Electoral Commission, who requested anonymity, said the indiscipline by soldiers affected voter turnout in Ituri on Sunday. He said soldiers set up barriers along roads in Nizi and Walendus Bindi and demanded money from passers-by in exchange for free passage to vote.

In one such incident in Dhego, 40 km northeast of Bunia, a voter said: "They searched me and took five of my 10 American dollars."

So far, the military has declined to comment on the accusations.

In Bunia, voter turnout was visibly lower compared with the first-round election on 30 July, a local electoral commission official said. However, the official said, there were no irregularities reported in areas within the district controlled by the rebels loyal to Peter Karim, leader of the Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes (FNI). Although Karim was integrated into the national army in October, he still controls at least 3,000 men in Ituri.

In Fatika, voter turnout was high compared with other areas of Ituri. Fatika is a traditional stronghold of the Union des patriotes congolais (UPC) headed by Thomas Lubanga, now detained by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands. In Fatika, UPC has called on its supporters to vote for Bemba.

There were several incidents of violence between Kabila's and Bemba's bodyguards in the run-up to the second round. On 20 August, two days of fighting broke out in the capital, Kinshasa, between Kabila's guards and those of Bemba. International institutions supporting the transition to democracy in the DRC intervened to reduce tensions.

The DRC endured a five-year civil war, ending in 2003, which eventually involved several African countries, some fighting against the government of the time.

The war, in which Kabila and Bemba took part as combatants, killed four million people, mostly through hunger and disease, and displaced five million. This has presented the country with a huge humanitarian challenge. During their 15-day campaign to the run-off, both presidential candidates expressed their determination to end this tragedy by restoring order to the country.


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