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
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'