Foreign troops under siege as war rages in Congo, four months after peace deal

A peace deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo signed only four months ago tottered yesterday when the government reportedly increased its aerial bombardment of the centre of the country, in an attempt to free 700 Zimbabwean troops besieged by rebels.

A peace deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo signed only four months ago tottered yesterday when the government reportedly increased its aerial bombardment of the centre of the country, in an attempt to free 700 Zimbabwean troops besieged by rebels.

Separately, the government of Laurent Kabila accused the rebels, who are backed by Uganda and Rwanda, of using US mercenaries in their campaign against the Congolese president.

From Kigali, Rwanda, rebels called on President Kabila to halt the bombardment of Bokungu, 500 miles east of the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. The attack, allegedly involving Antonov aircraft, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery, seemed to be aimed at breaking through a rebel line to link up with Ikela, where the 700 Zimbabweans have been surrounded since at least Tuesday.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, which is almost the size of Western Europe and used to be known as Zaire, has been at war since August last year. President Kabila, who overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, is backed by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. The rebels, in a power challenge with ethnic overtones, argue that he has done nothing to move the country towards democracy.

In the past year, the rebels have become divided by Rwanda's and Uganda's different motivations for backing them. Kin-Kiey Mulumba, a rebel spokesman speaking in Kigali, said of the Bokungu bombings: "The fighting is extremely violent. We are continuing to resist. But if they continue, the Zimbabweans at Ikela will find themselves in a bloodbath."

Mr Mulumba said the fighting was the fiercest since the peace accord signed in August in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, which aimed to establish a ceasefire and pave the way for peace-keepers.

Earlier this week in New York, Namibia led the Security Council in urging the UN to arm 500 military observers for Congo soon - as forerunners of the 25,000 peace-keepers promised under the Lusaka deal. There are already observers in the Congo, but with limited remit and resources. Further difficulties have been caused by the flooding that has affected 15 of Kinshasa's 24 districts and made about 10,000 people homeless.

The Namibians' Security Council resolution was mainly an attempt at shoring up the Lusaka agreement against frequent claims, from all parties in the conflict, of breaches of the ceasefire. The US Congress has yet to consider the cost of the larger peace-keeping initiative. And the UN is wary of deploying peace-keepers when there is no peace to keep.

It is understood that attempts to secure a safe passage for the Zimbabwean forces trapped in Ikela, nearly 200 miles east of Bokungu, failed when the soldiers refused to surrender their weapons.

Asked about the Congolese and Zimbabwean claims that US mercenaries were manning rebel artillery and communications equipment in Lusambo and Kabalo, in central Congo, Mr Mulumba said: "I am categorically denying that we have any mercenaries on our side. Least of all, Americans."

But Zimbabwe's defence forces spokesman, Colonel Chancellor Diye, said: "The presence of white mercenaries from the United States has been noticed. About 30 were seen at Lusambo and Kabalo."

Colonel Diye did not say whether the mercenaries had the support of the American government; nor did he name the organisation they represented. He said violations of the ceasefire by the rebels had continued unabated despite the deployment of monitors from the Organisation of African Unity and the UN in the past two weeks.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has assigned about 11,000 troops - one-third of the country's army - to support Mr Kabila, a deeply unpopular move at home, where the economy is in crisis. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other donors have suspended aid programmes to Zimbabwe because of differences on economic management, especially government spending in the Congo.

Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister, Stanislaus Mudenge, said the rebels had moved reinforcements and heavy weapons near areas held by the pro-Kabila allied forces, in preparation for a big offensive. He said the violations of the ceasefire would have a negative impact on the peace process.

Colonel Diye said the allies would defend themselves "to the teeth" if attacked.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Interface Developer - HTML, CSS, JS

£17000 - £23750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Liverpool based international...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness