14th Nov 2018

Congo drone crash compounds EU soldiers' image problem

The EU peacekeeping mission in Congo - EUFOR - suffered a second setback over the weekend, after a Belgian drone crashed in Kinshasa injuring five. But the country's historic elections saw polls close on Sunday without major outbreaks of violence so far.

The robot plane hit a house during its maiden flight on Friday (28 July) leaving five people suffering burns, with a statement from the 2,200-strong EU force saying "This drone flying over Kinshasa for a first technical flight is intended to take photographs and is not armed."

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  • Downtown Kinshasa: EU soldiers are backing up a larger UN force in trying to keep the vote violence-free (Photo: wikipedia)

The crash came one day after French jets buzzing over the compound of presidential candidate and ex-rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba helped spark riots in which six people died.

EUFOR is already facing a public relations challenge, Reuters reports, with some ordinary Congolese people seeing the EU soldiers as supporters of incumbent president Joseph Kabila and his deals with international mining companies in the gold and diamond-rich state.

The heavily-armed, French and German-led EU force has also been criticised for avoiding danger-zones and lacking the resources to do more than put on a show of EU concern.

Some 1,200 of the soldiers are on standby in neighbouring Gabon, with the 1,000 troops actually in Congo trying to cover an election of 32 presidential candidates, 50,000 polling stations and 26 million voters in a country three times the size of France but with few roads or telephones.

"I've never understood what this force is doing. Are the elections taking place in Gabon?" presidential candidate Christophe Mboso said last week, according to newswires. "There are no [EU] troops in [the dangerous eastern towns of] Goma, Bukavu or Kisangani."

The EU soldiers also risk leaving the country when they are most needed - in the aftermath of the final result. EUFOR is mandated to leave in November, but if Sunday's poll sees no clear winner, a second-round presidential run-off would take place in late October.

The EU contributed €150 million to the €360 million cost of putting on the elections and supplied 300 election monitors, including a 12-strong delegation of MEPs led by French liberal and former general Philippe Morillon.

The UN is also heavily-involved in the vote - designed to bring an end to decades of spluttering civil war that has killed millions - deploying 17,000 international peacekeeping troops alongside the EU forces in the biggest UN operation of its kind.

So far, so good

Polls closed on Sunday after a relatively peaceful weekend marred by isolated incidents of violence around the country.

Gunfire between rival factions left one dead and two injured in Kinshasa, a petrol bomb thrown into a polling station in the central town of Mbuyi-Maji hurt three and a polling station was burned down in the southern territory of Kasai, European media write.

The preliminary result and the international election monitors' verdict will come out on 2 August, with official results to follow three weeks later.

But on Sunday, three presidential candidates and former rebels issued a joint statement containing allegations of vote-rigging in a bad omen for-post election stability.

"Perhaps we are heading for a masquerade or a parody of elections," Jean-Pierre Bemba, Azarias Ruberwa and Arthur Z'Ahidi Ngoma - each still backed by their own militias - said.

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