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EU Soldiers Arrive as Tensions Mount Ahead of Congo Polls

The first of the European soldiers being sent to help oversee Democratic Republic of Congo's elections began arriving and setting up base in Kinshasa this week. The arrival of the EU force coincides with the U.N. and other foreign observers issuing warnings about the lead up to the polls which is already tense.

Advance units of the European Union's force which is due to help police Congo's elections began arriving this week and are setting up their base at an airport in the middle of Kinshasa.

A handful of German, French and Belgian soldiers who specialize in logistics and communications are working to transform old, unused hangars into a base for the estimated 800 soldiers who will be dispatched to Congo.

The EU force, which will also have reinforcements stationed in nearby Gabon, is due to act as a deterrent against anyone trying to disrupt Congo's upcoming elections.

The presidential and parliamentary polls will be the first free and fair vote in over 40 years and are meant to offer the chaotic country a fresh start after a five-year conflict that killed an estimated four million people.

But as the July 30 polls approach, tensions are already mounting in Kinshasa, the run down city that is home to more than eight million people. The U.N. peacekeeping mission and international organizations are expressing concern.

The Carter Center, set up by the former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, is observing the poll. The center said the current climate of hostile rhetoric and challenges to political freedoms risked undermining confidence in the elections.

Meanwhile, the U.N. is pressing the Congolese government to ensure the process is run fairly. The world body cited cases where the security services were denying civilians, including presidential candidates and journalists, the right to operate freely.

The newly arrived EU force will be working alongside some 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers who are trying to stabilize the vast African country after decades of dictatorship, war and chaos.