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Congo Election Brings Threat of Renewed Unrest

Even though voting day Sunday in the Democratic Republic of Congo was mostly peaceful, analysts and observers agree the process remains fraught with dangers, including a possible return to war.

Official results for the presidential election will not be out before the end of August, but already candidates are announcing their own tallies.

A consensus that is emerging is that President Joseph Kabila, the son of the former rebel turned leader Laurent Desire Kabila, has done very well in the east of the country. Meanwhile, former Uganda-backed rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba leads in the capital Kinshasa and other parts of the west.

Both of these candidates have armed forces that are loyal exclusively to them.

Bemba has warned repeatedly that if he does not find the electoral process transparent, he could go to war.

The Central Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group, Caty Clement, says such threats should be taken very seriously.

"What now is the consequence of that threat should it be carried out, I am not sure it would be something that could threaten the entire country, the stability of the entire country, but something that really matters is that you have the possibility of just deciding to go it alone and that you have little turfs that become independent of the rest of the country in a sense," she noted.

She says only half of the process of integrating the armed forces has been accomplished, with about 80,000 former fighters still largely outside the army.

She also says it seems voting was polarized along ethnic lines.

Many young people in Kinshasa and in central mining areas say they will riot and kill foreigners if Mr. Kabila is credited with winning directly in the first round with more than 50 percent of the vote. They say they believe the vote was in his advantage from the start.

An election observer, former Burundi President Pierre Buyoya, says he understands their frustration.

"I have also heard the same rhetoric," he said. "First, I have to say it is a normal rhetoric in a time of competition. Our job as observers is to find out if the election has been free and fair. There have been some irregularities. Now, we are busy evaluating the impact of those irregularities on the whole exercise."

International observers will give a joint assessment Wednesday.

Mr. Buyoya says he believes it would be better for Congolese democracy to have a second round. Clement, from the Brussels-based research organization, agrees.

"A second round would help to prevent this east-west divide in the country," she added. "If you have a second round, it forces both parties to build alliances, to bridge the geographical divide in the country, so to that extent it would certainly be something profitable."

But the head of a human rights group called Voice of the Voiceless, Chebeya Floribert, says the whole process favored former warlords who were installed in a power-sharing government.

He says there are clear signs there could be massive street protests and even a return to war after results are announced.

He says this has been made quite visible by the arrival of a European rapid reaction force, to boost the U.N. peacekeeping mission. He believes the whole electoral process was artificial and came too fast, with too much outside help.

Foreign diplomats and U.N. personnel have already started planning possible evacuations because of the threat of looming unrest.

A one-round election for a 500-seat parliament also took place Sunday. Observers and analysts say that under the new constitution approved last year the president will have the power to dissolve that assembly. They say the outcome of the presidential election is definitely the most crucial aspect in determining the future of the troubled and mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo.