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Congolese Wary of Violence After Kabila Victory

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to Africa, where the incumbent president of Congo has won a runoff. His opponent's supporters are threatening violence, and that's not a threat to take lightly in a country where a civil war killed millions in recent years. The rival fighters already have battled over preliminary election results, and civilians are again in the crossfire.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton looks at a day in the life of one resident of the capital, Kinshasa.

Mr. APOLLINAIRE MALUMALU (Director, Electoral Commission): (Speaking French)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: The head of Congo's independent electoral commission, Apollinaire Malumalu, proclaiming Joseph Kabila the newly elected president last night. The Supreme Court has yet to endorse the provisional results, but they've already been rejected by the coalition backing the losing candidate, Jean-Pierre Bemba. His supporters say they will challenge the vote by any means possible. Both Kabila and Bemba were rebel leaders and both retain private security forces here in Kinshasa.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

QUIST-ARCTON: Less than a week ago, Kinshasa's main tree-lined boulevard erupted in violence. Automatic weapons fire and mortar rounds echoed around the city, as Kabila's and Bemba's forces clashed in Congo's riverside capital. Gunfire is a sound homemaker, Mamie Osumbu and her daughters never want to hear again.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

QUIST-ARCTON: Another burst of gunfire, closer this time, and a Uruguayan-U.N. peacekeeper shouts, down, get down, as more civilians squeeze behind a wall of sandbags and a noisy armored personnel carrier. Moments earlier, the same soldier dashed out onto the boulevard to rescue Osumbu, who was weeping, and four terrified children in blue and white school uniforms, eyes wide with fright.

(Soundbite of weeping)

QUIST-ARCTON: Shaking with fear, 37-year-old Mamie Osumbu could barely speak at first. She'd heard the gunfire and rushed to the school to find the children. Then they got caught up in the crossfire. Crouching and crying, she implored Congo's leaders for peace.

Ms. MAMIE OSUMBU (Congolese Resident): (Speaking Foreign Language)

QUIST-ARCTON: Osumbu and her daughters, 11-year-old Tabitha and Zephora, who's 10, have moved way out of town to her mother's, from their own dingy one-roomed home. Pointing towards the boulevard, she says it's too close to Jean-Pierre Bemba's armed fighters guarding his swanky residence. Before she's prepared to move back downtown, Osumbu wants assurances there will be no more violence. A tough call, says the head of the 17,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, William Lacey Swing.

Ambassador WILLIAM LACEY SWING (Special U.N. Representative of the Secretary-General): Obviously there's no 100 percent security. But we have deployed where we think the likely trouble spots might be. I think the most encouraging thing is the Congolese people themselves. The vast majority of people are tired of war. They're tired of violence. They want peace.

QUIST-ARCTON: That's the hope Osumbu and her kids are holding onto, but she's still scared. It's almost 2 p.m. and now they need to head back out of town before rush hour. The girls look nervous and unsettled, unsmiling.

Ms. OSUMBO: (Through translator) You know, life in Kinshasa was always tough. You had to think of different ways to make ends meet, to pay the school fees and feed the kids. But it's even tougher now.

QUIST-ARCTON: President Joseph Kabila has appealed for calm and national unity in Congo, a country desperate to jettison its mantel of war and dictatorship.

(Soundbite of crowd)

QUIST-ARCTON: But Jean-Pierre Bemba's supporters, like these young men, are angry, very angry. They say their candidate has been cheated of victory and they're prepared to take up arms to defend him. That's the sort of belligerent talk that worries Mamie Osumbu and many other Congolese here in Kinshasa.

Ms. OSUMBO: (Through translator) What we need is unity. Unity is what matters.

(Soundbite of traffic)

QUIST-ARCTON: And on that note, clutching her daughters' hands at the busy and noisy bus station, Mamie Osumbu hunts for seats in a dilapidated vehicle for the long ride to her mother's home.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kinshasa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.