Goma riot after killing by Zaire troops

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The Independent Online
RIOTS broke out yesterday following the killing early in the morning of a young Zairean man by pillaging members of President Mobutu Sese Seko's elite presidential guard. The demonstrators were quickly dispersed by soldiers firing into the air.

Later, some 2,000 mourners, many in trucks commandeered from international aid agencies, joined a funeral procession to a local cemetery, where Jumaine Mokili, 22, was buried after a eulogy by his brother.

The rioting surprised foreign observers, who had predicted that the presence in eastern Zaire of as many as 1 million Rwandan refugees - not President Mobutu's own troops - would eventually trigger unrest among local Zaireans, whose nerves are frayed to breaking point by the humanitarian crisis engulfing the region.

The slaying and subsequent demonstration also represents an embarrassment for President Mobutu, who has been eager to assist the international aid effort here, hoping it will help him to rehabilitate his tattered image abroad, where he is mostly viewed as a corrupt despot.

According to a member of the Zairean national guard who requested anonymity, Mokili, one of the prominent money-changers who conduct business on the main street of this Zairean border town, was shot dead early yesterday morning after soldiers entered his home and attempted to rob him.

An hour later, several hundred mostly young demonstrators, chanting 'Go back to Kinshasa]', bore Mokili's bloody body through the streets on a stretcher, stopping at the home of the local governor to hurl epithets and at a military compound to hurl rocks.

When the swelling crowds began littering the streets, hurling stones and ripping up pavements to erect road blocks, Zairean soldiers, ignoring the orders of their commanding officers, fired warning shots from their Russian-made AK-47s and the crowds fled.

In mid-July, when Rwandan refugees were flooding into Zaire, President Mobutu, who has ruled for 26 years, deployed some 400 choice presidential guards and paratroopers to Goma to help local troops maintain order.

But these forces are viewed by local residents, and even by locally-based Zairean soldiers, as a virtual occupying army. Loyalties in the government and military of Zaire are almost entirely local.

And, doing nothing to alter their widespread reputation for brutality and venality, these soldiers nightly go from door to door to harass and plunder. 'They steal money, televisions, and anything they can get their hands on,' said a 39-year-old construction engineer. 'They've finished robbing Rwandan soldiers and refugees so now they've turned to us.'

BUJUMBURA - At least seven people were wounded, one seriously, in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, yesterday when a grenade was hurled into the main market, raising fears that the country will follow Rwanda into ethnic conflict, Reuter reports.

The attack took place at noon despite a heavy military presence on the streets to quell ethnic unrest and strikes. It was not known who threw the grenade.

Witnesses said the explosion blew holes in the market's roof and there were pools of blood on the floor among the wooden stalls. The incident further raised an already charged political atmosphere. The army quickly moved to head off further attacks and sealed off a northern surburb of Ngagara, a mainly Tutsi neighbourhood where armed opposition militants roam.

The mainly Tutsi army cordoned off Burundi's university in the capital after reports that students were planning demonstrations in support of the detained opposition leader, Mathias Hitimana. He heads the Tutsi-led Party for the Reconciliation of the People. His arrest on Sunday sparked clashes by his followers and brought Bujumbura to a standstill on Monday and Tuesday. Up to 15 people were killed.

(Photograph omitted)