DRC poll vital to region's stability - UN delegation

Successful elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would not only help the country's peace and transition process but would also greatly contribute to the achievement of stability in Africa's Great Lakes region, according to a UN Security Council delegation that visited the region from 4-11 November.

In recommendations to the Council, the delegation called upon Congolese authorities and all political actors to ensure the holding of free, fair, transparent and democratic elections before the scheduled end of the country's transitional period on 30 June 2006.

A referendum on the constitution is scheduled for 18 December.

The 15-member delegation, headed by Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière of France, said it observed "first hand" the progress made in the country's peace process, "particularly with regard to elections; security sector reform; the disarmament of foreign and Congolese arms groups; the extension of state authority and the establishment of the rule of law."

It urged the Congolese government to increase civic education and voter registration, "particularly among women, to ensure widespread public understanding regarding the draft constitution, the voting system and the electoral process".

The group noted that by 7 November at least 20 million voters had registered and that the government had approved the draft electoral law, which had been submitted to parliament.

On security and the presence of foreign armed groups in parts of the country, the Council delegation encouraged the Congolese government to engage Rwandan rebels loyal to the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) to disarm and repatriate.

"The transitional government should in this regard ensure that all possible steps are taken to strengthen the capacity of FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo]," the delegation said.

The team, which held talks with senior Congolese authorities and officials of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), also visited Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

In Burundi, they congratulated the people and the administration for successfully conducting an electoral process that had resulted in the peaceful transfer of authority to an elected government. The country is emerging from a 12-year civil war.

The delegation urged the government and the special representative of the UN Secretary-General, who is also head of the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB), to determine the modalities of a gradual disengagement of the peacekeeping presence of ONUB.

The issue of the continued presence of foreign and armed groups in eastern DRC featured in talks with the leaders of Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

"In both Kigali [the Rwandan capital] and Kampala [the Ugandan capital], the mission underlined the importance of supporting and reinforcing the integration of FARDC, so as to enable it to tackle those armed groups robustly, with MONUC support," the delegation said.

It encouraged states in the region to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue and through the establishment of "confidence-building measures and mechanisms".