Kabila calls in North Koreans to train troops

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Military instructors from North Korea have arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo to strengthen the army at the request of the President, as Laurent Kabila tries to distance himself from his long-time ally, Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe.

Military instructors from North Korea have arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo to strengthen the army at the request of the President, as Laurent Kabila tries to distance himself from his long-time ally, Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe.

The Koreans are intended eventually to replace key Zimbabwean personnel who have been training the army.

Zimbabwe's Independent newspaper said 169 Korean military instructors were in the Democratic Republic of Congo undertaking training programmes for Mr Kabila. The Koreans are also exploring the possibility of extracting uranium from the DRC to bolster their country's nuclear programme, the paper said.

North Korea agreed in 1994 to shut down its suspect nuclear reactor in return for a safe light-water plant being built by a United States-led consortium.

The DRC ambassador to Zimbabwe, Kikaya Bin Karubi, confirmed the arrival of the North Korean military experts in his country recently but declined to give details. Other sources said Mr Kabila's latest move might be part of a wider plan to strengthen his army and free himself from the grip of the allied forces of the Southern Africa Development Community, particularly Zimbabwe.

Mr Mugabe has deployed 13,000 troops, or one-third of Zimbabwe's entire army, in the DRC. Zimbabwe has the largest contingent of any foreign troops in that country.

Authoritative sources also say Zimbabwe has sought to play a more influential role and even to direct the running of the DRC's mineral affairs, a development that has angered Mr Kabila's ministers. It is understood that Mr Kabila is under pressure from his lieutenants to stop the exploitation of the DRC's mineral resources by foreigners who have been seen as plundering the country.

Zimbabwean army generals, who have reportedly escalated their private exploitation of minerals in the DRC under several opaque deals, have also angered the Congolese by their less-than-transparent practices.

The Zimbabwe Independent said Mr Kabila's military initiatives were part of his wider plans to ditch Mr Mugabe.

Mr Kabila and Mr Mugabe clashed last week over differences about how the peace process in the DRC should be moved forward.

* The Zimbabwe government named another 509 white-owned farms yesterday that it plans to confiscate for redistribution to landless blacks, bringing to 1,542 the number it has targeted under a speeded up land seizure program. Farmers say the announcement casts more doubt over the viability of commercial farming.

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