UN concerned by DR Congo tensions in run-up to vote

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations' envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo warned Wednesday that Kinshasa was clamping down on the opposition ahead of next year's elections and urged authorities to hold credible polls.

"The political space is shrinking for opponents," Martin Kobler told journalists following a meeting of the UN Security Council on the DR Congo.

"It's important to have a credible, balanced electoral process," he said.

In power since 2001, President Joseph Kabila is barred under the constitution from seeking a third term in elections expected in November of next year.

But opponents accuse him of maneuvering to stay in power.

Making his last report to the Security Council as head of the UN mission and special envoy to the DR Congo, Kobler said political tensions were running high with an increasing number of rights violations.

US-based Human Rights Watch said in a report this week that Kabila's ruling party had employed "hired thugs" to attack opposition demonstrators in Kinshasa last month.

Twelve people were wounded and one attacker was killed in the violence.

Several men who took part in the attack told HRW that they were among more than 100 youths recruited by security officials and Kabila's People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and paid $65 (58 euros).

"Nothing should be done to impede the timely holding of legislative and presidential elections in November 2016 as foreseen by the constitution," Kobler told the 15-member council.

The Congolese government issued a statement in response to the UN envoy, saying it was investigating the violence in Kinshasa in September.

"We have been and remain committed to the implementation and protection of democracy, human rights and individual freedoms, including the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government," said government spokesman Lambert Mende.

The United Nations has 22,000 peacekeepers serving in the DR Congo, the United Nation's largest mission, but Kabila has repeatedly called for the MONUSCO force to leave the country.