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.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

School Office/ Finance Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: School Office/ Finance Assistant Long t...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album