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EU Sends Reinforcements as Congo Fighting Continues

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VOA News - August 22, 2006

The European Union has sent more peacekeepers to Congo Tuesday, as gun battles continue in the capital Kinshasa for the third day.

UN troops in armored vehicles drive through the streets of Kinshasa, Congo
UN troops in armored vehicles drive through the streets of Kinshasa, Congo
The European Union says it rushed in three helicopters and 50 Special Forces soldiers from Gabon Tuesday. Its spokesman says he expects up to 500 more troops to arrive there soon. These will add to the 1,000 European troops who are supporting the United Nations' 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Congo.

Meanwhile President Joseph Kabila's spokesman has told the AFP news agency, Congolese troops must return to their barracks immediately.

Sporadic gunfire has prevailed in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, since Sunday's announcement that the July 30 presidential elections would require a runoff, after no clear winner emerged.  Many shops are shut and roads have remained largely empty.

Fighting continued outside the home of vice president and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, from where foreign diplomats had to be evacuated Monday.  Bemba is to face incumbent President Kabila in a runoff on October 29 to complete Congo's first open elections in 40 years.

Armed security forces loyal to both candidates have been firing at each other.  The United Nations, which is now protecting Bemba's compound, say at least five people have died in the fighting. Both sides accuse each other of initiating the violence.

The head of the U.N. mission, William Swing, told U.N. radio he was trying to broker a truce between Mr. Kabila's and Bemba's forces.

Mr. Kabila led the first round with 45 percent of the vote, against Bemba's 20 percent, which he drew largely from the west of Congo.

But analysts say the elections have failed to unify Congo, where an estimated 4 million died during its six-year civil war.  President Kabila brought peace by integrating rebel leaders in a government of national unity in 2003.

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