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Annan says DR of Congo at 'critical stage' with enthusiasm for June elections

UN News Service - March 23, 2006

23 March 2006 - Describing the Democratic Republic of Congo as being at a ?critical stage? ahead of landmark 18 June elections, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today met officials in the east of the country, saying that he felt Congolese were excited at the prospect of electing their own leaders and ending the long, bloody civil conflict.

On his latest stop in an official visit to Africa, Mr. Annan travelled to Kisangani to meet with Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo, where he thanked him for working with the UN and said he looked forward to further collaboration in the transition of the country from its six-year civil war towards peace and democracy.

?We are now at a critical stage, as we prepare for the elections,? Mr. Annan said, ?and my own sense is that the people of Congo are really excited about this opportunity to be able to elect their own leaders democratically, to be able to listen to what programmes they have for them and to be able to tell them what they need.

?One thing that is clear, I think, all of them that I had contact with and the reports people are getting is they want peace. They are fed-up with the war, they have suffered enough and they do not want to go back to the destruction and the misery of the past,? Mr. Annan said, contrasting this with his last visit about four years ago when ?you could feel the tension in the air.?

He pledged to work with the Congolese people and the Government to ensure progress in the consolidation of stability, and said he counted on the good will of people like Archbishop Monswengo in that effort.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Annan visited the eastern headquarters of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), which has 14,000 peacekeepers deployed in the region out of a total of almost 17,000 uniformed personnel. MONUC also has more than 850 international civilian personnel, over 1,400 local civilian staff and 470 UN volunteers.

The Security Council set up MONUC to help foster peace and security after a civil war that has cost 4 million lives. The world body is also helping to organize the June poll in its largest and most expensive electoral assistance operation it has ever undertaken.

In today's visit to Kisangani, Mr. Annan went to the local office of the Independent Electoral Commission, met with women leaders and also went to a centre where former combatants can decide whether to return to the military or go back into civilian life.

On Wednesday, the Secretary-General conferred for a second day with DRC President Joseph Kabila and also held separate meetings with the four power-sharing Vice Presidents of the vast country, before making a public address in which he said the Congolese people had shown they were determined to ?overcome the divisions of the past and build a future together.?

Mr. Annan also met with the President of the Independent Electoral Commission, Abbe Malu Malu, and conferred with the representatives of Angola, Nigeria, South Africa, Belgium, France, and the five permanent members of the Security Council, who make up a committee supporting the DRC's transition to democracy.

He is now travelling to Gabon and then to Equatorial Guinea to continue his good-offices effort to mediate a territorial dispute between the two neighbours. He will confer with the Presidents and other senior officials respectively in Libreville, Gabon's capital, and in Bata, the main city in continental Equatorial Guinea.

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