KINSHASA: DR Congo on Wednesday announced that key elections due to take place nationwide on December 30 would be postponed to March in two regions troubled by violence.
But those delays will not affect the timetable for the presidential ballot, which is being held alongside legislative and provincial elections, the national election commission CENI said.
Already postponed three times, the elections are due to bring the curtain down on the era of President Joseph Kabila, in charge of the vast mineral-rich country for nearly 18 turbulent years.
"The elections in the Beni region and the cities of Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province, as well as Yumbi in the (southwest) Mai-Ndombe province initially scheduled for December 30, will now be held in March," CENI said.
The "final results" of the presidential vote will still be published on January 15, and the next president will be sworn in on January 18, CENI said.
It did not explain how this would dovetail with the outcome of the vote that would take place much later in the troubled regions. A total of 1,256,117 voters -- roughly three per cent of the nationwide electoral roll -- will be affected by the delay.
The elections were due to have been held on December 23, climaxing a long period of blood-stained turbulence.
But CENI ordered a week-long postponement, blaming a warehouse fire that destroyed voting machines and ballot papers earmarked for Kinshasa.
Two and a half times bigger than France and Germany combined, the Democratic Republic of Congo has a long history of political turmoil and violence.
It has never had a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960.
In 1996-1997 and 1998-2003 it became the theatre of two wars that left millions of dead and homeless and sucked in countries from around central and southern Africa.
Memories of the conflict haunt the region still. In Brazzaville, the capital of the neighbouring Republic of Congo, eight countries met Wednesday to discuss the situation in the DRC.
The summit gathered Angola, Botswana, Congo, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia, although there was no DRC envoy. Smaller conflicts are also unfolding in the east of the country, where swathes of the countryside are in the grip of brutal militias.
The CENI statement pointed in particular to parts of North Kivu province, affected by "a terrorist threat" and "a dangerous, ongoing epidemic of the Ebola virus" in the areas of Beni and Butembo.
Since 2014, hundreds of civilians have been killed in attacks attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a shadowy Islamist-rooted group that arose in western Uganda in 1995.
Since August 1, 354 people have died in an outbreak of Ebola, whose epicentre is the Beni region, according to official figures.
"Elections cause major movements of voters to polling sites, causing the people to gather and mix, which increases the risk of spreading the disease and providing an opportunity for terrorist attacks, " CENI said.
On the other side of the country, inter-communal clashes erupted this month in the southwestern province of Mai-Ndombe, causing at least 80 deaths and prompting thousands to flee to neighbouring Republic of Congo.
CENI said violence in Yumbi territory on the night of December 14 "led to massive displacement of people, the destruction of all electoral equipment and documents (and) the ransacking of CENI warehouses and sites.
" Kabila took office in 2001 at the age of just 29 after succeeding his assassinated father, Laurent-Desire Kabila.
His long spell has been sharply criticised by rights and anti-corruption watchdogs, and his final years marked by protests that were bloodily quelled.
He was due to step down at the end of 2016 after reaching his constitution-limited two terms in office.
But he stayed on, invoking a caretaker clause in the constitution that enables a president to stay in office until a successor is elected.
The elections were postponed until the end of 2017 under a deal brokered by the powerful Catholic church -- and then again until 2018, when Kabila eventually confirmed he would not run again.
Three men are seen as heading a field of 21 candidates.
They are Kabila's hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister; Martin Fulyani, a little-known legislator and former oil executive; and Felix Tshisekedi, head of the veteran UDPS opposition.