Zairean rebels pledge to fight on to Kinshasa

The Mobutu regime seems to be living out its last days. Ed O'Loughlin, in Goma, reports

With its army routed, its prime minister paralysed and its ailing leader already in exile, the corrupt and ineffectual regime of Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko seems to be living out its last days.

The ailing president left France for home yesterday, after receiving treatment for cancer. But the rebels said his return made no difference. As Kinshasa buzzes with rumours of a military coup, Laurent Kabila and his victorious rebels plan to make sure that it is they and not the Mobutists who call the final shots of the war.

Although its frontline troops have only just captured Kisangani, 800 miles from Kinshasa, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire says it intends to fight all the way to the capital if the authorities there - whoever they may turn out to be - do not swiftly come to terms.

Four months ago, when the rebels emerged from the hills of southern Kivu to capture the frontier towns of Goma and Bukavu, few people took seriously their threat to overrun the entire country. But after the fall last weekend of Kisangani, Zaire's third largest city, it seems possible that the shadowy rebel army can indeed take Mr Kabila, who yesterday visited Kisangani, all the way to Kinshasa if Mr Mobutu or his successors refuse to give up power.

Originally dominated by ethnic Tutsis from the Kivu region, who rebelled last October following government pogroms, the rebels remain a largely unknown, invisible force. Tight controls on movement in rebel areas ensured that few journalists or aid workers have got anywhere near the fighting.

Kinshasa and its allies claim that there is a reason for this secrecy. They allege that the bulk of the fighting is being done by troops from the Rwanda and Uganda veterans of the 1986 war against Milton Obote and of the 1994 campaign that ousted Rwanda's genocidal Hutu regime. Both countries had poor relations with Mr Mobutu, who allowed Ugandan rebels and Rwandan Hutu infiltrators to operate from his territory.

Uganda and Rwanda have consistently denied these claims, but Westerners who were in Rwanda and Zaire during the Kivu campaign last year noted distinct similarities in style between the rebels holding the towns and the well-disciplined fighters of the Rwandan Patriotic Army.

Journalists were present last November when RPA troops attacked across the border from neighbouring Gisenyi, ostensibly to drive off Zairean Armed Forces (FAZ) who had mortared the town. Goma fell to the rebels the same day.

Since then, some of the rebel officers in Goma have been identified as Zairean-born Tutsis who had left Zaire in the late 1980s and early 1990s to join the Rwandan Patriotic Front, then in exile in Uganda.

Whatever the nature of the links between the rebel forces and the Rwandan government, few in eastern Zaire doubt the links are strong.

The rebels' leader, Laurent Kabila - a non-Tutsi whose name was first linked to the rebellion a month after it broke out - has been at pains to show that Zaireans of all ethnic groups are flocking to the rebel cause. He claims to have more than 15,000 men under arms, including numerous defectors from the FAZ.

The source of the rebels' equipment and ammunition is unclear, although they have, as Mr Kabila claims, captured large quantities of both from the FAZ and its allies in the exiled Rwandan Hutu army.

While they have mortars and some artillery pieces, the rebels seem to rely mainly on small arms and the tactics of stealth and surprise perfected by the Rwandan Patriotic Front in 1994.

People in the captured towns have said that the rebels seem to operate in small groups. They often infiltrate at night and the ensuing confusion, together with a few mortar rounds, has usually been enough to frighten off the demoralised, untrained and unpaid FAZ soldiers.

The identity of the commanders directing these tactics remains largely unknown, although Mr Kabila's son is officially credited with leading the capture of Kisangani. Andre Kissasse, who described himself as the alliance's military leader last November, was killed shortly afterwards, reportedly in an ambush.

Whoever Mr Kabila's generals are, they could yet win the war without fighting a battle. Mr Kabila said this week that superior knowledge of the terrain - mostly thick jungle, rivers and swamps - ensured his fighters had little difficulty coping with the 300-odd white mercenaries imported by Mr Mobutu at the beginning of the year.

While some rebel leaders have said the southern city of Lumumbashi is their next objective. Mr Kabila says his men are also acquiring boats for a fresh advance down the Zaire river towards Kinshasa.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'