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Sender: o-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Thu, 20 Mar 97 11:38:07 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Rebels Take More Ground In Zaire
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC
Article: 7603

Rebels Take More Ground In Zaire

By Megan Arney, in the Militant, Vol. 61 no. 12, 24 March 1997

As the Militant goes to press, the rebel forces of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire are rapidly advancing on the eastern city of Kisangani and have just captured the Lake Tanganyika port city of Moba. It looks increasingly unlikely that the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko will survive the crisis.

The rebel army, estimated to have as many as 40,000 troops, says it has surrounded Kisangani from three sides. Depending on different news reports, the rebels are between 10 and 30 miles from that economic center. On March 7, rebels and the government's army clashed at the airport - a mere 10 miles north of the city.

Since the conflict started last October, the rebel forces have captured a 900-mile-long swath of territory in eastern Zaire, and won wide support. They now control about one-sixth of the country, including areas that contain gold reserves worth $1.47 billion. They are only 300 miles north of Lubambashi, the hub of the cobalt and copper belt, and are close to Mbuji-Mayi, the country's diamond capital.

By all accounts, if the city of Kisangani falls into rebel hands, President Mobutu would be forced to abdicate. Its location makes it militarily and economically strategic. The city sits on a main river artery - the Zaire River - and a major railway. It is also surrounded by diamond and gold mines. The Zairian army has concentrated its forces and resources there. Kisangani is a major depot for arms and ammunition that would fall into rebel hands along with the city.

In most areas the rebel forces have taken the cities quite easily, as the demoralized Zairian army flees. But in Kisangani there has been some resistance by the government troops and foreign mercenaries. It has been widely reported that up to 300 Serbian and other foreign mercenaries are in Zaire. Pro-government forces have mined the approaches to the city and are drilling with attack helicopters. Nevertheless, the New York Times reported March 7 that the mercenaries had pulled three leased fighter jets out of the area to avoid their capture if the city falls.

The population of Kisangani seems to be eagerly awaiting the rebels. The city has long been the center for anti-government views. In the 1950s, revolutionary leader Patrice Lumumba forged a base there for his anti-colonialist political party, and in the mid-1960s, rebels established a revolutionary government in Kisangani.

On March 5, the Zairian government said it would accept a five-point United Nations plan, which includes a cease-fire, the withdraw of foreign fighters, and an international conference. According to Reuters news agency, on March 8 the rebels said they would accept the plan as a basis for more discussions, but that a cease-fire could only come after talks. Three days later, government officials in the capital city of Kinshasa rejected the talks unless the rebels disarm.

Rebels gain popular support

Articles in the big-business press have remarked on the military strength and "stunning maneuvers" of the rebel forces, explaining that they must be guided by a "Rwandan or Ugandan ... a well-schooled officer and masterful strategist," as the New York Times put it. What is clear, however, is that what started as a rebellion in eastern Zaire has exploded, and won broad support among workers and peasants. On March 10, the Associated Press reported that 20,000 new troops have joined the struggle. In addition, civilians give the rebels crucial support, carrying goods toward the front, showing them shortcuts through the jungle and giving them food.

The government army, on the other hand, is utterly demoralized. While foreign mercenaries are reportedly being paid up to $10,000 for a three-month stint, the Zairian army soldiers have not been paid, and are increasingly deserting.

Even though state-run news broadcasts have virtually ignored the conflict in the eastern part of the country, people in the capital city of Kinshasa, about 700 miles west of Kisangani, are talking about the rebels. Juliet Muamba, an unemployed worker, told the Washington Post that rebel leader Laurent Kabila "will not have to fight for Kinshasa. We will welcome him here." The government has banned demonstrations in the capital.

Imperialists consider intervention

Most big-business commentators and diplomats are loudly proclaiming concern that the conflict could split the country and the region. Writing for the Washington Post, Stephen Buckley warned the fighting could lead to "political anarchy." The New York Times quoted an unnamed African diplomat saying, "The dismemberment of Central Africa's largest country, if it were to happen would be the ugliest disaster we have seen yet."

The regime of Mobutu is clearly collapsing. While Washington appears to be resigned to this fact, it continues probes for possible intervention in order to stabilize the situation, using the facade of "humanitarian aid" for refugees from Rwanda who are in eastern Zaire.

In response to this, Kabila said on March 8 the rebels would open up safe corridors to allow refugees to march back to Rwanda. The United Nations began an intervention operation March 9, under the pretext of finding hundreds of Rwandan refugees lost in the Zairian jungle. On March 10, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and U.S. assistant secretary of state George Moose met to discuss the possibility of a "multinational force to protect refugees," according to the Associated Press.

But by the next day, state department spokesperson Nicholas Burns said that while Washington was meeting with officials from the UN, the White House was not ready to participate in a military operation. "We'll agree to continue to discuss it if other countries wish to discuss it," Burns added. Several European governments have said they would consider taking part if Washington supported the idea.

The French government has been pushing for intervention to back the regime in Kinshasa. Paris has long seen Central Africa as part of its "sphere of influence," and sees Washington's latest role there as a threat. On March 11, French president Jacques Chirac accused other imperialist powers of a "complicity of silence" regarding Zaire.

In a public statement February 5, Washington warned Zaire's neighbors - Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi - to stay out of the fighting. In the British daily Financial Times on March 10, Michela Wrong reported that "a secret Pentagon paper... envisages splitting the nation from north to south at the level of the town of Kananga." Burns responded the next day that "Zaire is one of the biggest and one of the most important countries in Africa. We believe that Zaire's territorial integrity must be respected."

Another point of contention is the role of the Angolan government in the conflict. The New York Times asserted March 9 that the Angolan government is supporting the rebel forces by flying exiled Zairian rebels and military supplies to eastern Zaire. Mobutu has also accused Angola of massing troops from eastern Zaire in the Angolan border city of Cabinda in preparation for an attack on Kinshasa. In early March, Washington publicly warned the Angolan regime to stay out of the Zairian war. For two decades Washington and the Mobutu regime backed the counterrevolutionary National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which attempted along with apartheid forces of South Africa to overturn the newly independent Angolan government beginning in 1975.

History of Zaire

The Congo (now Zaire), with 38 million people, became a Belgian colony in the late 1870s. It was prized for its natural resources. Today, the country's mineral-rich Shaba region in the south produces about two-thirds of the world's cobalt. Zaire leads the world in industrial diamond production. Zinc, tin, manganese, gold, silver, iron ore, and uranium are also found, as well as some 13 percent of the world's total hydroelectric potential, oil reserves and coal deposits.

The Congo won its independence in June of 1960. A general election gave a majority of seats in the new parliament to the movement headed by Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the independence struggle and later the prime minister. When the Belgian government backed a counterrevolution led by Moise Tshombe, Lumumba appealed to the United Nations. The first UN "peacekeepers" disarmed Lumumba's forces, effectively aiding the Belgian troops and Tshombe. In September of 1960, with the backing of Washington, a section of the Congolese army led by Col. Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in a coup against Lumumba. The revolutionary leader was murdered in 1961. UN troops withdrew in 1964, leaving Mobutu in power.

Washington, Paris and other imperialist powers have relied on Mobutu's dictatorial rule ever since to maintain Zaire's superexploitation as a semicolonial country. Despite the country's incredible natural resources, conditions for the overwhelming majority in Zaire are desperate. Two-thirds of the population is employed in agriculture, mostly as subsistence farmers producing small crops like corn, bananas, and rice. Real wages in the early 1990s were less than 10 percent of those in 1960. The banks in Kindu have not been open since 1991, while teachers have not been paid in three years.

Many big-business newspapers report that the conflict in Zaire started with the refugee crisis and the so-called ethnic tribal war in Rwanda. The recent conflict in eastern Zaire, however, erupted last October when local politicians in southern Kivu province announced a plan to push ethnic Tutsi who had lived in Zaire for more than two centuries, known as Banyamulenge, into Rwanda. Residents in the area fought back and then kept going. While at first the main core of the rebel forces was reportedly Tutsi, the momentum of the rebels' advance and the general hatred for the Mobutu regime have bolstered the rebel ranks with fresh recruits of all ethnic backgrounds.

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