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
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
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: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower