KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo -- Battles between forces loyal to President Joseph Kabila and those of his main campaign rival raged for a second day yesterday, and UN peacekeepers evacuated foreign diplomats who had been 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.
UN spokesman Jean-Tobias Okala said the diplomats, including UN chief of mission William Swing, were being returned to the world body's offices in the capital, Kinshasa, after being evacuated from Bemba's compound by UN troops in armored personnel carriers.
``They're out and they're coming to UN headquarters. Everyone's safe," he said.
The foreign envoys were meeting with Bemba when fighting erupted outside his compound. Swing, the head of the UN's 17,500-troop peacekeeping mission, was inside, along with envoys from the United States, France, China, and other countries.
It was not clear if the diplomats were ambassadors or lower-ranking officials. The US Embassy had no comment, and others could not be reached immediately for comment.
An official at the UN 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 yesterday for all soldiers in the Congolese capital to lay down their arms.
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.
A second round of voting will be held Oct. 29.