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Last Updated: Monday, 24 July 2006, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
DR Congo's children 'a priority'
Congolese child
Six-month-old Androsi died of diarrhoea in a refugee camp
Children, who bear the brunt of unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, should be top of the agenda after polls on Sunday, says UN group, Unicef.

The Unicef report estimates that some 600 children still die every day as a result of conflict and disease.

Meanwhile, opposition supporters are reported to have stoned a motorcade of incumbent President Joseph Kabila.

A huge UN peacekeeping force is in the country to help it hold its first ever free presidential elections on Sunday.

The war in DR Congo officially ended with a peace agreement in 2003, but conflict continues in parts of the east, and the UN faces what the organisation's secretary general, Kofi Annan, calls a "logistical nightmare" in holding the polls.

Protest

A motorcade belonging to President Kabila was pelted with stones in the southern city of Mbuji Mayi.

Demonstrators reportedly shouted slogans accusing him of being of foreign origin. The reports say security forces made several arrests.

UNICEF REPORT
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President Kabila was not reported to have been in the convoy.

The town is the stronghold of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who is boycotting the polls.

Several powerful groups have called for a boycott of the polls because they think the incumbent president has mobilised state resources to back his campaign and used intimidation as a political tool.

The Roman Catholic Church said they would not recognise the results of the polls unless concerns about vote-rigging were addressed.

Confusion over the number of registered voters could lead to attempts to rig Sunday's polls, according to a letter read out in churches in Kinshasa.

Conflict

Unicef says the international community must put pressure on political factions to ensure that the lives of children are improved following the polls.

It says as well as the daily preventable deaths, children suffer as witnesses, and sometimes forced participants, in crimes that can inflict lifelong damage.
Roman Catholics at prayer in Kinshasa on 23 July
Catholics - more than half the population - may boycott the polls
Nearly four million people are estimated to have died since 1998 through violence, hunger and disease.

"At the height of the war, estimates suggested that as many as 30,000 children were fighting or living with armed forces or militia groups," said the report's author Martin Bell.

But he said the elections offer a real prospect that things can change for the better.

"For the first time in over 40 years, the Congolese people will have a real choice at the polls and a real chance to end what is often called the 'First World War' of Africa," he said.

The United Nations' special envoy, William Swing, has said preparations for the elections are going very well, although much still needs to be done.

Mr Swing told the BBC that the UN was vigilant but not overly anxious about the security situation, and he welcomed the fact that militias in the east had not disrupted the election process.

"This is arguably the only sub-region in Africa that has always lacked any centre of political stability and because of the size of this country, with nine neighbours, it is the only country that can give it that stability," he said.

"If the crisis in the Congo can be successfully resolved, Congo can change the face of Africa. Very few other crises can."


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