Mobutu's men go on final rampage

Zaire crisis: Villagers pay as rebels close in
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The Independent Online
At Kinshasa airport yesterday the poor were still picking up bricks from the carcass of the huge General Motors factory, abandoned after the 1991 pillage by rioting Zairean troops.

Less than a mile away Franklin Kumga surveyed his cosmetic store, more recently ransacked by the country's military. The walls outside are peppered with bullet holes and pounds 15,000 of stock is gone.

A week ago six uniformed soldiers threatened to kill the store's elderly night watchman They piled Mr Kumga's entire stock into a cart to be trundled off to their nearby barracks. But before they left they opened fire on the shop's stockroom.

For the past few weeks the people of this shanty settlement have locked their doors at 7pm and remained inside until daylight. The electricity supply was mysteriously lost last month and has not been restored. Everyone suspects the troops from Camp Ceta are cutting the wires. It makes night time shopping - and terrorising - much easier.

With his tiny daughter pulling at his leg a depressed Mr Kumga said he is finding it hard to get stock again. "I went to the commanding officer at the airport but he said these were bad times, the country was not well and I should go home, stay quiet and forget about it."

It's been a long time since Zaire government troops were citizen-friendly. Just ask General Motors. But as Laurent Kabila's rebels close in on Kinshasa the army has stepped up the intimidation, theft and violence in Kingasani, one of the last shanty suburbs on the road east to rebel held territory.

And their violence is laced with new menace towards a population which now openly despises them under ailing President Mobutu.

"We can hear them shooting now every night," said Astride Kapinga, 42, a mother of 11. "And they taunt us. They say you are happy to see Kabila come, but we will get you before he arrives. They are getting ready to pillage."

All of last week, she says, the soldiers were busy moving their families out of the area, a potential battlefield because of the nearby airport and the strategic route east. "But we have nowhere else to go," said Mrs said Mrs Kapinga.

"My sister-in-law was raped by five soldiers. This is very common. Young girls in particular cannot go out after dark."

In Kingasani everyone agrees the soldiers are out of control. Their squats and camps have become no-go areas.

"They treat us like a field for harvesting," says Marcel, an unemployed graduate, who has no sympathy for the troops' own miserable lot. They are, he says, destroying the little other people have struggled to build in the crumbling Zaire.

In Kingasani they blame President Mobutu. It is true he knows what is going on. But a Western missionary goes further. President Mobutu, he says, encourages the terror; it is an integral part of his military state. The President understands the implications of allowing thousands of city soldiers to go unpaid.

"It's vindictiveness on the President's part," says the missionary, who has worked in Zaire since the 1960s. "When democratisation began in 1990 and a free press opened up President Mobutu realised he was not liked by the people so he said 'if that is how you feel, you will get what you deserve'. Mobutu unleashed the military and now they are preparing for their final spree."