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Congo truce holds as troops patrol Kinshasa

Congo truce holds as troops patrol Kinshasa

U.N. peacekeepers in armored vehicles patrolled Congo's capital Kinshasa yesterday as a truce that ended three days of fighting between rival political factions appeared to be holding.
The riverside city had been shaken by artillery, rocket and machine-gun duels since Sunday between President Joseph Kabila's presidential guard and soldiers loyal to his election rival, former rebel chief Jean-Pierre Bemba.
The fighting, which killed at least 10 people and wounded many more, followed an official announcement that Democratic Republic of Congo's landmark elections held on July 30 would require a deciding run-off vote between Kabila and Bemba.
After rushing in extra European Union peacekeepers, U.N. and foreign mediators on Tuesday brokered a truce between Kabila and Bemba's forces, and witnesses said Kinshasa's center was calm yesterday amid signs that life was starting get back to normal.
White-painted U.N. armored vehicles patrolled the streets and guarded key intersections, some taxis were running and streets sellers were out hawking bread and mobile phone cards. Several buildings lining the central boulevard displayed windows shot out by gunfire. Four dead bodies were also lying by the road near the Supreme Court.
Concerns for the run-off
The fighting has raised fears about security for the scheduled October 29 run-off vote between Kabila and Bemba, one of the vice-presidents in the country's transitional government.
The U.N. has its largest peacekeeping force in the world - more than 17,000-strong - in the Congo which ensured generally peaceful voting in the July 30 elections, the first free polls in the vast, former Belgian colony in more than four decades.
U.N. troops were also guarding the riverside home of Bemba, which was attacked by Kabila's soldiers on Monday. Congolese troops loyal to Bemba also protected the residence.
"The fighting was heavy here. They attacked us with mortars and bombs. But it has been calm since yesterday," a pro-Bemba soldier told Reuters.
Only sporadic gunfire was heard overnight as police attempted to control outbreaks of looting in some neighborhoods. Some looters could also be seen carrying off electrical goods and furniture in central Kinshasa.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan telephoned both candidates to urge them to "meet immediately to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner," U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Some aides to Kabila and Bemba are calling for the date of the run-off vote to be brought forward.
Not enough votes
Kabila, who assumed the presidency when his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001, gained 44.81 percent in the July 30 poll, under the more than 50 percent needed to win outright. Bemba came second with 20.03 percent.
The elections were meant to draw a line under a decade of conflict in the former Zaire, where a 1998-2003 war sparked a humanitarian crisis that killed more than 4 million people. But they have underlined deep political and ethnic divisions.