MUJA, Congo – Congo's government on Wednesday welcomed a decision by the United States to impose sanctions on seven warlords and businessmen, including a notorious international arms dealer, who are accused of fueling instability in this vast country's lawless east.
In an executive order Tuesday, U.S. President George W. Bush froze the U.S. assets of the seven men and barred Americans from doing business with them. The seven were accused of violating international laws involving targeting of children or violating a ban on sales of military equipment to Congo.
It was not immediately known what assets the group had in the United States, if any.
"They may or they may not, that's really not the point or the object," said U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kinshasa, Christopher Davis. "It is a warning to anyone else about dealing with these individuals ... that they run the risk of finding themselves under similar sanctions."
Congo government spokesman Henri Mova Sakanyi said he did not expect the sanctions to affect Congo's tense runoff election, which pits incumbent Joseph Kabila against Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord who was made vice president in the current power-sharing administration after the country's 1998-2002 war.
The runoff held Sunday was largely peaceful, though one-day repeat votes were required in two towns after rioting mobs destroyed ballots and polling stations.
"It's a good thing for us that the international community is beginning to sanction those who financed the war," Sakanyi told The Associated Press in the capital, Kinshasa. "Without help from outside, the war wouldn't have lasted as long."
Congo is struggling to recover from decades of dictatorship and a war that divided the country into rival fiefdoms and drew in the armies of half a dozen African nations, many of which were accused of plundering the country's mineral wealth, including diamond, gold and copper.
Huge tracts of the east remain lawless despite the presence of more than 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers deployed in Congo to bolster security.
Those targeted by the White House sanctions include Congolese warlord Laurent Nkunda, 49, who operates a private fiefdom in Congo's eastern Masisi territory and claims the loyalty of thousands of army troops. His forces have been accused of torture and rape and he has been named in an international arrest warrant for war crimes.
Also named were Rwandan militia leader Ignace Murwanashyaka and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, an infamous figure who has allegedly trafficked weapons to Central and West Africa since the early 1990s. The list identified Bout as the owner of the Great Lakes Business Co. — whose planes are accused of transporting arms in violation of embargoes.
Two others working for Great Lakes Business Co. were Dimitri Igorevich Popov, 45, general manager, and Douglas Mpano, 41, manager.
The rest were Khawa Panga Mandro, 33, former head of the Party for Unity and Safeguarding of the Integrity of Congo; and Sanjivan Singh Ruprah, 40, a businessman.
"We are glad to know that the United States government is now ready to put out everyone involved" in the war, Sakanyi said.
Meanwhile, a repeat vote in the presidential runoff that had been set for Wednesday in the northeast Congo town of Fataki, where rioters destroyed ballots from Sunday's voting, was postponed a day. A local electoral official, John Ukunya, said they needed more time to fly in new voting materials and inform voters the ballot would be held again.
Hundreds rioted in Fataki on Monday after an apparently drunken soldier shot and killed two election workers. The ensuing violence destroyed nine voting centers — each with multiple polling stations — and the results stored within. Electoral officials said about 25,000 people would have the chance to cast ballots again in the repeat vote.
Another repeat vote was held Tuesday in the northern town of Bumba.
Results from the landmark election are not expected for days or weeks. The electoral commission has said it will publish provisional results by Nov. 19.
The vote is the climax of a four-year transition process aimed at moving Congo into democratic rule for the first time since independence from Belgium in 1960. The country has seen little but dictatorship and war since.