As electoral violence looms, Belgian defence chief visits Congo to discuss cooperation

Electoral violence in Congo threatens to derail next Wednesday's parliamentary elections, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. The Congolese authorities must take action to avoid escalating an already dangerous situation, HRW warns. Meanwhile, Belgian defence chief Michel Hofman visited his Congolese counterpart in Kinshasa on Saturday to assess military cooperation between the two countries.

HRW said the authorities should investigate the violence and prosecute those responsible, regardless of their political affiliation. The organisation said it had documented clashes between supporters of rival political parties across the country since October. These clashes have resulted in sexual violence and at least one death, HRW said.

Congo's elections are scheduled for 20 December. In addition to the presidential election, Congolese will also vote in parliamentary, provincial and local elections. More than 1.5 million people will be unable to vote in conflict-affected areas, particularly in North Kivu province in the east of the country, but also in Mai-Ndombe province in the west, HRW said. Millions of displaced people across the country will also be unable to vote.

Military partnership

In the run-up to the elctions, the head of the Belgian armed forces, admiral Hofman, visited his Congolese counterpart, Christian Tshiwewe Songesa, in Kinshasa to assess military cooperation.

"The reason for my visit to the headquarters of the FARDC [the Congolese army] is to take stock of our cooperation, the activities of our partnership, and to look to the future, what we can do in the coming months, and it looks very good," Hofman said. The two discussed areas of military cooperation between Belgium and its former colony, in particular training, armaments and logistics. They also exchanged views on the security situation in eastern Congo.

"The reason for my visit is to take stock of our cooperation, the activities of our partnership, and to look to the future, what we can do in the coming months, and it looks very good"

For the first time in the country's democratic history, Congolese voters living in five foreign countries - including Belgium - were invited to vote. According to the Immigration Service, 3,105 Congolese living in Belgium - out of a population of around 20,000 - are registered to vote.



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