Kinshasa curfew as Kabila's former allies turn against him

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The Independent Online
GUNMEN LOYAL to President Laurent Kabila patrolled Kinshasa's rutted streets yesterday in search of allied-turned-enemy Rwandan mercenaries who are suspected of plotting against the government.

The capital awoke to the sound of gunfire as soldiers clashed inside their base compounds in the west of the city. A dawn-to-dusk curfew was imposed on Kinshasa, while in eastern Congo, military officers appeared to be in open revolt against Mr Kabila.

About 14 months after charging victoriously into the capital, the rebel alliance that carried Mr Kabila to power appears to be unraveling.

"The government asks the people of Congo and those foreigners here to stay calm and to stay at home until order is restored," said an announcement yesterday morning on the state-controlled People's Radio.

Troops loyal to Mr Kabila set up roadblocks in the city and began a massive search for Rwandan Tutsi soldiers. A defence ministry official said loyalist troops had been ordered to kill any Rwandan troops found hiding in or around the city.

The pre-dawn clashes at two military bases apparently pitted Mr Kabila's troops against Rwandan mercenaries, who last year helped the President oust the long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Mr Kabila last week ordered all Rwandan soldiers to leave the country.

The fighting comes amid growing suspicions within Mr Kabila's government that the Rwandan troops had been plotting against the regime. Earlier, Mr Kabila sacked James Kabari, a Rwandan Tutsi who had been the President's top military commander.

According to a defence ministry official, more than 1,000 Rwandan Tutsi soldiers fled the Kokolo base in Kinshasa and are hiding in a forest just outside of the city.

In the Rwandan capital, Kigali, a news agency reported that an open rebellion against Mr Kabila had been launched in North Kivu province in eastern Congo. "We, the army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have taken the decision to remove President Laurent-Desire Kabila from power," said a statement read on Radio Goma.

The statement was signed by Sylvain Mbuchi, commander of the 10th battalion of the Congolese army based in Goma, the provincial capital. Eastern Congo's Banyamulenge Tutsi population has been increasingly restive against Mr Kabila's rule. His foreign minister, Bizima Karaha, a Tutsi, failed to return home on Saturday from a trip to South Africa. His absence has triggered speculation that he may be linked to the uprising in the east.

In the capital, Mr Kabila had been growing anxious over the presence of Rwandan forces in Kinshasa, and, weeks before ordering them to leave, he increased security around government buildings.

The sound of fighting yesterday triggered a government order to clear the streets. Shops in the capital remained closed, and people who had headed downtown for work early in the morning quickly returned home.