Rebel troops capture Bukavu and threaten third Congo war

Declan Walsh,Rwanda
Thursday 03 June 2004 00:00
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Renegade Congolese soldiers seized control of Bukavu yesterday, rattling the transitional government and threatening the vast country's brittle peace process. More than 2,000 dissident troops swept past United Nations peace-keepers to seize the lakeside city on Congo's eastern border, after a week of sporadic fighting.

Renegade Congolese soldiers seized control of Bukavu yesterday, rattling the transitional government and threatening the vast country's brittle peace process. More than 2,000 dissident troops swept past United Nations peace-keepers to seize the lakeside city on Congo's eastern border, after a week of sporadic fighting.

Government defenders "fled for the hills", a UN spokesman said, as UN troops tried to contain looting rebels. Brigadier-General Laurent Nkunda, one of two renegade commanders, told reporters at the governor's mansion in the city centre: "I've been in charge of Bukavu since 11 o'clock this morning." A 1,080-strong UN contingent failed to stop the rebel advance, despite setting up a buffer zone north of the city.

The fall of Bukavu set off furious demonstrations across the country. Riot police in the capital, Kinshasa, struggled to push back protesters at the UN headquarters as plumes rose from a burning vehicle.

"We have 600 protesters rioting outside our headquarters here and damaging [UN] vehicles," Clive Mantell, chief of staff of the UN mission said. In the second city, Kisangani, crowds stoned UN peace-keepers, burnt a vehicle, and forced the UN troops back to barracks.

The surge in fighting is a disaster for Congo's fragile peace process, which only last June appeared a success. Then, President Joseph Kabila and rebel factions signed a power-sharing agreement that promised to end five years of war that claimed 3.5 million deaths, amid widespread rape and destruction.

Now the fall of Bukavu has raised fears of a fresh war, Congo's third since 1996. General Nkunda and fellow renegade commander, Colonel Jules Mutebutsi were officers with the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) rebels, which is now in the transitional government.

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