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UN urges Congo to hold elections by Dec. 31 deadline

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council urged Congo's government on Wednesday to swiftly implement an agreement to hold presidential elections by the end of the year, warning that failure to do so will increase the risk of insecurity and instability in the country and the region.

The head of Congo's electoral commission announced July 7 that it would not be possible to organize a presidential ballot by the Dec. 31 deadline. Congo law bars President Joseph Kabila from seeking another term but allows him to remain in power until another election can be held.

A presidential statement approved by all 15 council nations insists that the deadline be kept and urges key players "to organize peaceful, credible, inclusive and timely elections" leading to a peaceful transfer of power.

It expresses concern at the slow implementation of the agreement, reached on New Year's Eve 2016, and reiterates that full compliance with all its provisions "is critical to a credible electoral process" and peace and stability in Congo.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed delivered a similar message during a meeting with Kabila on Wednesday. She tweeted afterward: "Conveyed @UN support & encouragement for peaceful & inclusive elections & development process."

Congo's U.N. ambassador, Ignace Gata Mavita, told the Security Council on July 11 that while 33 million of the country's 45 million expected voters have been registered in 24 provinces, registration had not yet begun in two provinces — Kasai and Kasai Central — as a result of violence.

He said the government "cannot envision the conduct of such a critical election" without those two provinces, which represent more than 10 percent of the electorate. The Security Council statement welcomed "progress made in the voter registration process" and called for continued efforts "to ensure that voters throughout the country, including in the Kasai provinces, are duly registered."

The council also called for "the swift publication of the electoral timetable" as called for by African Union leaders at their summit in early July. The Security Council reiterated its condemnation of violence in the Kasais in recent months and the resulting humanitarian crisis which has displaced more than 1.4 million people within Congo and forced more than 30,000 to flee the country.

Council members expressed serious concerns at human rights violations and abuses in the Kasai region, including sexual violence and the discovery of mass graves. They also expressed serious concern at "recent reports of significant increase in violations of international humanitarian law and human rights by members of the security forces" of Congo in the Kasai region, "including the disproportionate use of force and the killing of civilians" that might constitute war crimes.

"The Security Council reiterates the importance and urgency of prompt and transparent investigations into violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights in the Kasai region," the statement said.

The council also reiterated the need for the Congolese government "to swiftly and fully investigate" the killing of two U.N. experts in May and bring those responsible to justice.

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