drc002 War/Peace consequences discussed while DRC officials still deny Kabila's death

Congo Kinshasa
War/Peace consequences discussed while DRC officials still deny Kabila's death

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afrol.com, 17 January - More than 24 hours after the alleged assassination of Congo Kinshasa President Laurent Kabila, confusing statements still are being made. DRC officials claim he is alive. Kabila's many enemies celebrate the death of what they call "an obstacle to peace," while military allies - Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe - are to meet soon to review the situation. US and UK officials warn any party "to take advantage" of the situation.

Confusion is total about what really happened to President Laurent Kabila. Actually, the only thing that is clear and confirmed by all parts is that Kabila was shot at in the so-called the Marble Palace, the President's residency, in Kinshasa yesterday afternoon. If he survived, who did it and why it was done are all still questions that get contradicting answers, depending the source. 

The Congolese Government spokesman and Information Minister Dominique Sakombi today made broadcast on Congolese TV from Kinshasa, denying that Kabila had been killed, but confirming the shooting. He referred to it as "an attack in which the President of the Republic, head of state ... was injured."

- For reasons of appropriate medical care, and in light of the urgency, the President of the Republic was transferred out of the country, accompanied by his doctors and the Health Minister for appropriate medical supervision; the official statement to the Congolese people went on. 

Mr. Sakombi also informed that the Government had decided to "give the leadership of the Government and the military high command to Major-General Joseph Kabila." Officially, Laurent Kabila's son therefore heads the DRC Government until his father has recovered, letting the country's institutions "functioning normally" in the meanwhile.

Further confirmation of Kabila's death
The first sources to report the death of Laurent Kabila were Rwandan and Ugandan officials, quoting their (obviously) well-placed agents in Kinshasa. The first credible report of Kabila's death came on the evening of 16 January by the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michel Malherbe, quoting highly reliable sources in Kinshasa. Belgium is the former colonial power in Congo Kinshasa. Malherbe's reports were soon confirmed by his French colleague, and he has insisted on his announcement throughout the day, rejecting contradicting reports and statements.

This afternoon, even Kabila's closest ally, the Zimbabwean Government, confirmed his death. The country's defence minister, Moven Mahachi, told the press that Kabila had died on a plane on his way to Zimbabwe for emergency treatment, thus also confirming the Congolese statement that the President was brought abroad. "President Kabila has died. It was a pure assassination," Mahachi told the Zimbabwean press agency Ziana in clear words.

Several Governments, including the United States and the UK, have since confirmed the death of Kabila, citing "consistent reporting". Governments were backed by their embassies in believing the news of Kabila's death. 

These statements indicate that Congolese officials "speak with two tongues" to foreign governments and to their national audience while the situation in Kinshasa is still fragile, thus supporting the assumption that Kabila was killed. Political sources in Harare (Zimbabwe) told Reuters that authorities in Kinshasa were delaying an announcement of Kabila's death while they set security arrangements in place to avoid a collapse into anarchy.

Reasons remain unclear
If there is confusion about the fate of Laurent Kabila, there is even more confusion about what actually happened in the President's palace, and why. Early reports, based on the statement of the Belgian Minister, indicated that one of Kabila's own lifeguards had shot him dead, but mentioned no reasons. Zimbabwean Defence Minister Moven Mahachi confirmed "Kabila was shot five times by an aide, who was subsequently killed by other aides in the room."

The reasons for the assault on the President's life were soon downplayed to have been "a quarrel which developed into violence" as Kabila had threatened to dismiss several generals. Most reports, however, indicate that the assassination was a coup attempt, but fail to name the forces behind it. The theory cannot be ruled out, as Kabila and his autocratic Government had many enemies, internal and external.

Rumours, printed in several media, have indicated anything from the killing of Laurent Kabila's son Joseph (who today was named acting President), a plot by the Congolese Defence Minister or by the army chief, the implication of Rwandan and Ugandan based rebels, etc. Sources in the UN even told CNN that the shooting were a coup attempt that was led by supporters of ex-president Mobutu who had been based in neighbouring Congo Brazzaville. At this stage, all these rumours can only be seen as unfounded.

Consequences to the conflict
The allies and enemies of Kabila's Government have been quick to make statements on his alleged death, all parties fearing its consequences to the armed conflict Congo Kinshasa (DRC). Neutral powers, such as the US and the UK, have already warned the warring parties not "to take advantage" of the confusing situation. 

Congo Kinshasa is the scene of what has been called the First African War, where several rebel groups and six countries are involved. The eastern rebels are backed by Kabila's former allies Rwanda and Uganda, deploying troops in support of the rebels. Fighting on the Congolese Government's side are Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. While the Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebels seem to experience some gains in battle lately, Congo's main ally, Zimbabwe is slowly pulling out of the country. Rebel forces backed by Rwanda and Uganda occupy more than half of the Congolese territory.

Among the rebel party, Kabila's death has caused rejoicing. Spokesman for the Rwanda-backed rebels the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), Kin-Kiey Mulumba, said they thought that the death of Kabila could improve prospects for peace. "Kabila was an obstacle to peace and now the obstacle is gone," he said. The French news agency AFP reported of celebrations and drinks being handed out in rebel held Bukavu. 

Reactions in Kigali (Rwanda) and Kampala (Uganda) have been similar, focusing on Kabila being "an obstacle to peace". Rebel forces and Rwandan and Ugandan spokesmen all underline their wish to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict, and say they have gained new hope no that Kabila is gone.

Kabila's allies, on the other hand, are alarmed by the assassination of Kabila. The allies - Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe - say they are to meet soon to review the situation, according to a report in Zimbabwean television. Both Zimbabwe and Namibia already have assured that their troops will remain in Congo. Zimbabwe has deployed an estimated 12,000 troops in Congo, compared to Namibia's estimated 2,000 troops.

Zimbabwean Defence Minister Mahachi said his country would continue to offer military support to the Congolese Government and said Zimbabwean troops would not be recalled, although recent rumours say the contrary (Zimbabwe is due to halve its armed forces). "Zimbabwe will continue to help the people of the DRC, more so under these circumstances. We won't abandon them at this critical hour," the Minister said.

The Congolese Government and its allies obviously have had fears that rebel forces would take advantage of the situation and try to advance towards Kinshasa. This may also explain the hesitation to announce Kabila's death in Kinshasa. The rebels, however, only seem to emphasize on a peace message for the moment. There are no reports from Congo indicating increased military activities at the front. A press release from the UN especially emphasized on this point, stating there are no "signs of increased military activity resulting from Tuesday's event". 

Thus, the first signal in the post-Kabila era has been sent - an invitation to the new Government in Kinshasa to negotiate a peaceful solution to the "First African War" fought on Congolese soil. The parties already have the Lusaka Peace Agreement, signed 18 months ago, to build on, and the UN has already agreed that a peacekeeping force of some 5,500 members will be deployed once the fighting stops. 

President Kabila was blamed by many for putting obstacles in the way of the peace agreement and the deployment of UN forces. Some optimism is therefore coming up with the change of leadership in Kinshasa. The world is waiting for the first signals to be sent from the new Congolese Government - when a new Government is constituted.

Sources: Based on news agencies and afrol archives

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