Rebels aim for Zaire's second city as coup fears sweep capital

Zairean rebels in Goma, their provisional capital, announced yesterday that their next objective would be Lubumbashi, capital of the copper rich Shaba province. But with the capital Kinshasa awash with rumours of imminent coups, the rest of Zaire could fall into their hands before they even move to take it.

Two days after rebels captured Kisangani, Zaire's third largest city, the country's ageing President Mobutu Sese Seko is reported to be critically ill in a French hospital. Meanwhile the power is draining from his regime in Kinshasa, as defiant rebels swarm westward from the Rwandan border.

Kinshasa may be the brains of Mobutu's Zaire, but by capturing Kisangani, Laurent Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the liberation of Congo/Zaire seemed to have ripped out its heart. With Kisangani in their hands, the rebels are now poised to continue their advance into strategic mineral regions and perhaps Kinshasa itself.

Although Kisangani was an important objective in itself, for the rebels it also represented an opportunity to rout the best forces Mr Mobutu could send to meet them. These included several thousand members of the exiled Rwanda Hutu army and militias and - the rebels claim - fighters from the Angolan Unita rebel movement.

The city was the base for the government's troops and foreign - mainly Serb and Croat - mercenaries whom President Mobutu ordered to crush Mr Kabila's eastern rebels. Its airport was, until Saturday morning, the last airfield in eastern Zaire still in government hands.

The capture of Kisangani is a crippling blow to any plans the government might have had for launching another offensive. Worse, its geographical position astride the Congo River system offers fresh opportunities to move against diamond-rich Kasai province in the south or Kinshasa in the west.

Zaire and its allies claim that the rebels' success is due to direct support from the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, ethnically linked to many of the rebels and politically at odds with Mr Mobutu's regime. Zaire's neighbours deny this and accuse it of seeking excuses for the indiscipline and corruption of its own bedraggled army.

Most towns on the road to Kisangani have been captured after a light bombardment and with little fight - the rebels seem content to allow the demoralised Zairean and Rwandan Hutu troops to loot and flee.

According to one military observer the rebel army's most difficult challenge was probably logistical - maintaining supply lines along the broken roads and tangled rainforests that separate their base at Goma from Kisangani, over 300 miles to the west. In doing so, the rebels have shown that they are capable of striking anywhere.

n Kisangani (Reuter) - Around 300 government troops handed their weapons over to victorious rebels in Kisangani as the central government told its citizens not to panic over the military defeat. Residents in Kisangani say that the city, headquarters for army operations in the war zone, fell to rebels after Zairean soldiers looted what they could and fled.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
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: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat