African bishops disagree over Congo election

Congo bishops have called on the country's faithful to be ready to boycott the first national elections in 40 years over alleged irregularities but their South African counterparts disagree saying failure to hold the elections would jeopardise peace in the entire region.

According to Reliefweb, 1,000 EU soldiers have been sent to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to help provide security for Sunday's elections. The EU soldiers will join a 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force - the world body's biggest mission - already stationed in the former Belgian colony.

The elections, which are costing the international community more than A$500 million, are meant to draw a line under a 1998-2003 war that has killed around 4 million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

The potential for fresh election-related violence is high.

Some opposition parties have called for a boycott and the influential Catholic Church has called on its faithful to be ready to stay away from the polls unless alleged election irregularities are corrected.

The Congo bishops have pointed out that there have been numerous irregularities in the run up to the elections, including continued fighting in the east of the country and problems with voter registration.

But in an unprecedented intervention, the Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa have told their Congolese counterpart that the elections should go on despite reported irregularities in the run up to the poll.

"The road to these elections has been paved at great human cost that has seen the country devastated by recurring civil wars. The fragile peace agreement brokered by South Africa has brought the nation forward to this historical day," the bishops said in a statement.

"Given the tragic history of the DRC since independence, Sunday's elections offer the greatest chance for peace in decades, a peace that can have a stabilising effect on the whole Great Lakes region."

The South African bishops recognises the enormous challenge ahead for Congo but, they said, "the overwhelming desire of the people of the DRC to participate in these elections cannot be ignored because of difficulties that could not be avoided. However, we support our fellow bishops in their endeavour to ensure that the irregularities are addressed before the election."

South Africa: Catholic Bishops Back DR Congo Elections (CISA 26/7/06)
EU Congo force is battling for hearts and minds (Relief Web 26/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Democratic Republic of Congo (Wikipedia)

Caritas Internationalis calls for aid in Congo chaos (CathNews 23/6/06)
Congo killings raise fears of genocide (CathNews 14/5/03)

27 Jul 2006