Accessibility links

Congo's Kabila Heads to Troubled East

  • David Lewis

Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, is visiting the eastern Congolese city of Kisangani, a strategic position formerly controlled by rebels and now under the control of Congo's transitional government. Mr. Kabila visits an army post, which is due to restore state authority after years of chaos.

Little information was released about President Kabila's travel plans, but by Monday morning, the presidency announced he was in Kisangani, dubbed the "City of Martyrs" on account of the fighting its residents suffered during Congo's war.

It is just the second time since the end of the five year war that Mr. Kabila has visited eastern Congo, an area formally dominated by rebel groups that were backed by neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

The foreign armies have officially withdrawn, and the rebel groups they backed are now part of a transitional government in the capital, Kinshasa.

But much of eastern Congo is still out of Kinshasa's control, and Rwanda has threatened to send its army back into Congo. So Mr. Kabila has gone to Kisangani to inspect a new forward headquarters for the army that is charged with imposing central authority over the vast mineral rich country.

Presidential Spokesman Kudura Kasongo said that, from Kisangani, the army would carry out operations to secure Congo's borders, protect its population and impose central authority in North Kivu province, where several armed groups continue to operate.

Congo accuses Rwanda of having already made good on its threat to send its army into Congo to hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels, based in the east. And Kinshasa says that its soldiers that were sent into North Kivu to reinforce Congo's borders have been battling with Rwandan soldiers, as well as renegades within the Congolese army.

Rwanda has denied the claims. The United Nations, meanwhile, says it has compelling evidence of Rwandan incursions, but has stopped short of confirming them.

With less than six months left until the end of the transitional process, pressure is on the government to organize elections in the country, which is the size of Western Europe.

But in a speech delivered to the nation on New Year's Eve, Mr. Kabila warned that his country's priority for now is to protect its sovereignty, and nothing would be spared in doing so.

Rwanda has invaded Congo twice during the last decade, in 1996 and 1998, both times ostensibly to hunt down the Hutu rebels, many of whom took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

But critics say Kigali's continued meddling has more to do with the mineral riches in eastern Congo and is contributing to a humanitarian crisis that, according to an international aid group, has killed close to four million people since 1998.