Congolese Wary of Violence After Kabila Victory President Joseph Kabila has won a tense runoff election in the Congo. Supporters of opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba claim fraud gave Kabila the win. Some are threatening violence. Civilians will be the ones caught in the crossfire if there is a return to fighting in the country.
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Congolese Wary of Violence After Kabila Victory

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Congolese Wary of Violence After Kabila Victory

Congolese Wary of Violence After Kabila Victory

Congolese Wary of Violence After Kabila Victory

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President Joseph Kabila has won a tense runoff election in the Congo. Supporters of opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba claim fraud gave Kabila the win. Some are threatening violence. Civilians will be the ones caught in the crossfire if there is a return to fighting in the country.

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.

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Peacekeeper Jumps to Aid in Kinshasa Gun Fight

Mamie Osumbu takes a tin of drinking water from Cabo de Primera Uberdan Correa, a United Nations peacekeeper who ushered Osumbu and several children to safety during a gun battle in Kinshasa, Congo. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Mamie Osumbu takes a tin of drinking water from Cabo de Primera Uberdan Correa, a United Nations peacekeeper who ushered Osumbu and several children to safety during a gun battle in Kinshasa, Congo.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

U.N. peacekeeper Corp. Correa behind an armored personnel carrier. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Congo's presidential election has been plagued with violence, with supporters of the leading candidates engaging in street battles that have left civilians in the crosshairs.

But in the deadly daily reality of life in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, there are heros, including a United Nations' peacekeeper from Uruguay. During four hours of gunfire on Saturday, he showed his humanity and courage by helping women and children out of the line of fire.

Saturday's showdown occurred around the official residence of Jean-Pierre Bemba, Congo's current vice president and the losing presidential candidate.

A mortar boomed, followed by a rapid burst of gunfire and Corp. Cabo de Primera Uberdan Correa jumped from the shelter of sandbags and a U.N.-armored personnel carrier, straight into Boulevard 30 Juin, the main thoroughfare running through the heart of Kinshasa.

That's where most of the shooting was happening. He was back in a flash, shepherding a dazed woman, Mamie Osumbu, and four frightened uniformed school kids -- two were her daughters -- to safety.

The hapless group had been trying to rush home, across the boulevard, but ran the gauntlet of jittery gunmen brandishing an assortment of weapons and sporting colorful loincloths. Bemba's fighters. Bemba has rejected the election results, and fighters loyal to him promise to contest the vote.

Correa didn't stop there. Huddling in fright and confusion, some of the children started crying. They stuck their fingers in their ears to drown out the din.

Correa gently tried to comfort the kids, calming them down and patting their heads. Mixing Spanish with broken French, he reassured them.

"Hush. It's OK," he said. "We'll look after you".

He handed the kids cookies and water in a military tin. They returned his kindness with timid and grateful smiles.

In between ministering to the children, Correa kept up his peacekeeping duties, climbing on the armored personnel carrier, cocking his gun and surveying the scene, while communicating on a walkie-talkie.

Many Congolese fear that this weekend's gunfight between rival forces loyal to President Joseph Kabila and Bemba may be a sign of things to come in Kinshasa. This sprawling city of 8 million has, so far, more or less managed to avoid the war and rebellion that engulfed other parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When the danger was over, Correa waited before allowing women and children out of the shelter.

"Merci," they said.

"De nada. Muchas gracias," he thanked them. Then, rifle at the ready, he watched as they crossed the boulevard and didn't move an inch until they became pinpricks in the distance.

The crisis behind him, the women and children safe, the Uruguayan doused his hair and his face with water. Then it was back to peacekeeping business.