KINSHASA, Congo – Battles between forces loyal to President Joseph Kabila and those of his main campaign rival raged for second day Monday, and the U.N. sent scores of peacekeepers to evacuate foreign diplomats who were trapped inside the challenger's besieged home when gunfire broke out.
The fighting in the Central African nation came after election officials announced Sunday that President Joseph Kabila had failed to win an outright majority in Congo's first balloting in more than four decades and would face former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba in a second round in October.
U.N. spokesman Jean-Tobias Okala said 150 U.N. troops in 20 armored personnel carriers were to take the foreign envoys from Bemba's home, where they were meeting the candidate when fighting erupted outside his compound. The head of the world body's 17,500-troop peacekeeping mission, William Swing, was inside, along with envoys from the United States, France, China and other countries.
"An operation has been launched to extract the ambassadors," Okala said.
All the foreign officials were safe, he said. It was not clear if the diplomats were ambassadors or lower-ranking officials. The U.S. Embassy had no comment and others were not immediately reachable for comment.
A U.N. official at its headquarters in New York, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the mission, said peacekeepers were there "to assist in an evacuation ... of VIPs from Bemba's compound."
In a bid to quell the violence, the army issued orders Monday for all soldiers in the Congolese capital to lay down their arms.
Army spokesman Col. Richard Leon Kasonga appeared on national television and issued orders barring all troops from carrying their weapons in public without a written exemption. He appealed for calm, saying, "We're all members of the same army."
Bemba's political party said Kabila's guards attacked the house, drawing return fire from Bemba's guards. Bemba was in his office when the fighting started, said his spokesman, Moise Musangana.
A senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of prohibitions on dealing with the media, confirmed that Kabila's special presidential guards were battling members of the postwar military drawn from Bemba's insurgent ranks. But the official said Bemba's guards provoked the battle.
Gunbattles in the nation as large as all of Western Europe already had killed at least two people, a grim backdrop for another round of campaigning.
Kabila won 45 percent of the 16.9 million votes cast in the July 30 balloting; Bemba had 20 percent, Electoral Commission Chairman Apollinaire Malu Malu said. The rest of the votes cast were shared among 31 other candidates. Voter turnout was about 70 percent.
A second round will be held Oct. 29, electoral commission spokesman Desire Molekela said.
Congo's elections are meant to select a leader to knit together the country's 58 million people and end years of corrupt rule and war since it won independence from Belgium in 1960. Congo's last multiparty vote for a leader was in 1961. The winner was killed as military regimes took power.
The U.N. has peacekeeping troops in Congo helping oversee the voting process.
Witnesses said Sunday's fighting in Kinshasa between Kabila's special presidential guards and government troops still loyal to Bemba was sparked after members of the forces crossed paths and exchanged words. Members of Bemba's party said they were attacked.
Sporadic fighting continued after the results were broadcast on national television, with tracer fire arcing over the battered, teeming city.
Kemal Saiki, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force, said at least one soldier loyal to Bemba died. State television broadcast images Monday of a Congolese security guard killed in the fighting. A Kinshasa hospital official said two Pakistanis were treated for gunshot wounds.
Kabila, the 35-year-old president who helped end Congo's 1996-2002 war as leader of the transitional government, has so far drawn his greatest support in the east, where he was born.
He appeared on television late Sunday to thank voters and call for calm after the evening's violence. "It's a great victory," Kabila said.
Representatives for Bemba, who led a rebel faction in Congo's wars and is now a vice president in the national-unity government, said the candidate's support was strong enough to overcome alleged vote-tampering.
"Kabila's party tampered with ballots and increased Kabila's score in the east. But despite the irregularities, they could not win the vote," said Dully Sesanga, spokesman for Bemba's party. Bemba won strong support in Kinshasa.
Bemba and one other candidate have alleged fraud and said they may contest the results.
Molekela said political parties could submit their complaints to the Supreme Court.
International observers identified irregularities before the vote and on election day, but many groups say they saw nothing to call the results into question.