Rebels threaten to topple Mobutu

Rebels in eastern Zaire are advancing rapidly into the heart of the central African rainforest. Already they hold a 350-mile long front parallel to the Rwandan border. Bunia, the last government-held town in the east, was reported to be surrounded yesterday. Zaire's Information Minister, Boguo Makeli, speaking in the capital Kinshasa, said fighting in Bunia had left 10 dead. Rebels also claim to have surrounded Kisangani, the largest town in eastern Zaire.

Having routed the Zairean army (FAZ) last month and established a swathe of liberated territory in the east, they intend to overthrow the Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko, who remains in the south of France recovering from a cancer operation.

What might a couple of months ago have been dismissed as a localised self-defence campaign has grown into a movement with strong national aspirations. As evidence of their seriousness, the rebels have named the area under their control Democratic Congo. The Zaire river - which they have yet to reach - has reverted to its earlier name, Congo.

"The word Zaire means nothing in any of our languages," said a rebel spokesman. "This is the Congo,this nation should be the Democratic Congo. Soon we will liberate all of Zaire, and again we will be the Congo."

Zairean soldiers, unpaid for months and short of food, are retreating further into the interior. Missionaries leaving the region report widespread looting and raping by the demoralised FAZ.

According to the rebel military commander, Andre Ngundu Kissasse, who was speaking in the eastern border town of Goma at the weekend, more than 300 Zairean government troops have defected to the rebel side.

Though they speak a number of different languages, the rebels have proved a cohesive fighting force. From an initial core of ethnic Zairean Tutsis, called Banyamulenge, they have formed a broad-based movement comprising guerrilla groups with roots in post-independence nationalism, and disaffected tribes. Calling themselves the Congolese Liberation Army (CLA), they have at their head a former Marxist freedom-fighter, Laurent Kabila.

The Tutsi-controlled government of neighbouring Rwanda is widely believed to provide the insurgency's support and motivation. The most compelling circumstantial evidence lies in the significant number of English-speakers among the rebels; English is the lingua franca of the new order in Rwanda but not widely used in Francophone Zaire. Nevertheless, both the Rwandan government and the CLA continue to deny any links.

Also accused by Zaire of backing the rebels are the Tutsi-dominated regimes in Burundi and Uganda, whose army recently launched incursions into Zaire. The Zairean government charges Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda with attempting to establish a "Tutsi empire" in central Africa. Mr Kabila, however, insists his movement is independent of regional backing.

The rebels have captured large stocks of FAZ weapons to add to the arms they bought from unpaid Zairean troops before launching their insurgency in September.

The rebels have appointed civilians to administrative posts in parts of the territory they hold and in the main eastern towns of Goma, Uvira and Bukavu, life is returning to normal, with businesses and markets open.

Mr Kabila says he intends to form a new government but has ruled out talks with ailing President Mobutu whom he views as a crook and a tyrant. Mr Kabila, who favours a free-market economy, says he wants Zaire's vast mineral wealth to benefit the people who are among the poorest in the world.

The CLA claims to have already taken a number of mines, including the diamond mines around the town of Kindu and President Mobutu's personal gold mine near Bunia.

Whether the insurgents are strong enough to overcome the huge military and geographic obstacles before them remains to be seen. It is also unclear whether they can continue to count on popular support as they push further into Zaire's interior. The closer the rebels get to Kinshasa, the greater will be their need for assistance from other opposition groups within Zaire.

Life and Style
LifeReddit asked a simple question with infinite answers this week
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice