Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila says he wants free and democratic elections in his country as soon as possible. The announcement came only hours before the opening of talks aimed at ending three years of war in the central African country.

In a nationally televised speech late Sunday, Mr. Kabila said elections should be supervised by an independent national commission with help from the international community.

The president insists that free and transparent elections are the only way to implement the terms of the 1999 Lusaka peace accord. The treaty, signed one year after the beginning of the Congolese war, calls for comprehensive peace talks and a transition to democracy.

Mr. Kabila says that elections are necessary because Congo's warring factions have nothing left to gain on the battlefield. However, he says peace will not come to his vast country until all foreign troops have left.

The president spoke on the eve of long-awaited inter-Congolese peace talks in Addis Ababa. Mr. Kabila is not attending the conference in the Ethiopian capital.

However, he has welcomed international mediation and U.N.-led efforts to end the Congolese war since taking over the presidency from his assassinated father, Laurent Kabila, in January.

The three-year war has effectively partitioned Congo. Mr. Kabila rules the West with military support from Angola and Zimbabwe. Rebel groups control northern and eastern Congo with the backing of Ugandan and Rwandan troops. Namibia, which backs Mr. Kabila, recently withdrew its soldiers.

By some estimates, as many as three million people have died from violence, disease or malnutrition since the beginning of the conflict.