The United States on Monday backed plans by the Democratic Republic of Congo to hold elections in December 2018 and warned President Joseph Kabila must stick to the timeline.
The election commission in Kinshasa announced on Sunday that the long-awaited presidential, legislative, regional and local elections would take place on December 23, 2018.
"The release of an electoral calendar — while long overdue — sets a clear timeline for a transition of power," US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement.
"We will work closely with the DRC, the UN, and our partners to ensure President Kabila and his government stick to this timeline, encourage full peaceful participation and freedom of speech, and do not permit any further delay," she added.
Haley met with the head of the electoral commission during her Africa tour in late October and warned that elections must be held in 2018 or else the Kinshasa government could risk losing international support.
The US ambassador repeated that warning on Monday.
"As we heard directly from the Congolese people, the citizens of the DRC are hungry for democracy and new leadership. Further delays and attempts to hold onto power will only serve to isolate the DRC's leaders and government," she said.
The UN Security Council has been pressing Congolese authorities to announce a timetable for the elections, which could pave the way for the first peaceful transition of power in the vast resource-rich country.
Elections were scheduled to be held by the end of 2017, under a political deal with the opposition aimed at avoiding fresh political bloodshed after Kabila refused to step down when his second mandate ended last December.
The United Nations said the further delay was regrettable and that elections must be credible.
"While regretting that these crucial polls have once again been postponed, we continue to call on political leaders, on all sides, to place the interests of their country and people above all else and ensure the holding of credible, free, and fair elections," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.
The electoral commission said provisional results of the presidential election would not be published until a week after the voting, on December 30, 2018, with definitive results not issued until January 9, 2019.