KINSHASA, Congo - A massive blaze engulfed a warehouse in Congo on Thursday, destroyed a large number of machines and material related to the upcoming presidential election in the country.
The warehouse in Congo's capital of Kinshasa caught fire at about 2 am (0100 GMT) on Thursday morning and destroyed thousands of voting machines and ballot boxes by the time it was put out.
According to authorities in the country, the voting machines were set to be used in the country's long-delayed presidential election, scheduled to be held on December 23.
In a statement released on Thursday, the National Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (CENI) said that the fire incident destroyed 8,000 of 10,368 voting machines due to be used in Kinshasa during the election.
According to the electoral commission, the warehouse in the Gombe riverside area of Kinshasa, where the country's President Joseph Kabila resides, caught fire overnight.
So far, the CENI has not identified who is responsible for the fire.
The CENI clarified on Thursday that the election would go ahead as scheduled.
According to Corneille Nangaa, president of CENI, the destroyed equipment represented the materials for 19 of 24 voting districts in Kinshasa.
Nangaa told reporters at a press conference, "Without minimizing the gravity of this damaging situation for the electoral process, CENI is working to pursue the process in conformity with its calendar."
The Presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo has already been delayed by two years due to logistical challenges.
However, the opposition has slammed Kabila for the delay, claiming that the two-year delay was caused because of the President's reluctance to relinquish power.
The long-delayed December 23 election later this month is set to become Congo's first peaceful transition of power after decades marked by authoritarian rule and civil war.
The blame game
On Thursday, the ruling coalition and the opposition traded accusations of blame, even as an investigation into the incident was launched.
In a statement released on Thursday, Kabila's Common Front for Congo (FCC) accused opposition candidate Martin Fayulu of inciting violence earlier this month.
The FCC, which is backing the former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary in the presidential race, said in its statement, "Over the course of this electoral campaign, (Fayulu) called on his supporters and sympathizers to destroy electoral materials."
The opposition candidate, however, rejected the charge.
He suggested that state security forces might have been behind the blaze and said in a statement, "The fire erupted in a building guarded by the Republican Guard. You understand today that the Kabila people do not want to organize elections."
Later in the day, an adviser of the President, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi told reporters that the police officers guarding the warehouse were arrested.
He confirmed that the forensic police had launched an investigation into the blaze.
According to Karubi, voting machines from elsewhere in Congo would now be recalled for use in Kinshasa.