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
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Assistant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests