Fears grow of rebel attack on Kinshasa

Talks to end civil war collapse as Kabila fails to turn up

A rebel attack on the Zairean capital Kinshasa seemed almost certain last night after an 11th hour diplomatic initiative to find a peaceful solution to Zaire's civil war collapsed.

A second round of South African-led peace talks between rebel leader Laurent Kabila and Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko, aimed at bringing the President's 32-year dictatorship to a non-violent end, was at first "postponed" when Mr Kabila failed to show up on the South African supply ship the Outeniqua in the Congolese port of Pointe-Noire.

But late last night Mohamed Sahnoun, the UN Special Envoy, said it had been impossible to get the two sides to negotiate. With the rebels poised to take the capital, Mr Kabila's excuse that he failed to reach his helicopter pick-up point at Soyo, Angola, because his plane ran out of fuel, seemed a little lame. He also claimed he was still unhappy about security arrangements.

As they waited, the South African diplomatic team, led by President Nelson Mandela, said it could not believe Mr Kabila was stalling. But it seems that was just the conclusion reached.

South Africa's goodwill was sorely tested during the first talks, ten days ago, when it took two days to get the men on board the Outeniqua together. With Western military experts claiming the rebels - who in six months have seized most of Zaire - are now less than 100km from the capital, a Zairean government spokesman said last night that if war was inevitable the government was ready. He said President Mobutu would return to Kinshasa today.

Since the first face-to-face meeting between the dictator and the rebel, South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki has shuttled across the continent trying to sell a power-sharing deal to President Mobutu and Mr Kabila which would have given the rebels 60 per cent of the the seats in a parliament, and would have left the opposition to share the rest.

President Mobutu would have ceded power to a transitional authority, which could then have handed over power to Mr Kabila, saving the President's face. But until now the rebels have insisted they are interested in nothing less than a direct and immediate transfer of power from President Mobuto to Mr Kabila.

Mr Kabila's rebel forces are within 100km of Kinshasa and pledged to take it by the weekend if talks failed. The rebellion, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, began in October and the rebels now hold most of the country.

Yesterday Kinshasa's 5 million residents stayed home in response to an opposition call for a ville morte (dead city) day, to protest against proposals that would allow President Mobuto to transfer power to Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo, a controversial Roman Catholic cleric.

The streets of the city were deserted except for groups of Kinshasans listening to radio for news of the talks they had hoped would prevent a battle for the capital. A handful of gravediggers at the local Kinsuka cemetery were among the minority that chose to work.

In a city long collapsed, they are paid less than a dollar a month to bury the dead but turn up every day none the less. "We are working out of respect for the dead," said Joseph Mayala, who relies on direct payments from bereaved relatives of a few dollars to dig a hole.

Tens of thousands have been buried at Kinsuka since it opened in 1978. Like Kinshasa, it is falling apart.

The workers stuff leaves up their noses to kill the stench as they work because the government no longer provides masks. Michel Manyanya, too old to know his age, said he keeps up his job in the hope of a return to better government.

Asked about President Mobutu's responsibility for the dilapidated cemetery and city he becomes agitated. Like many elderly Zaireans he is still terrified to criticise President Mobutu. "Just look around you," he says "see for yourself."

His younger work mates were less reticent. They said they hated their president and hoped he was about to stand down. They would accept anyone, with no guarantees for the future or democracy, in his place.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace