U.N. forces condemn coup attempt in Congo

/ Source: The Associated Press

Leaders of a 10,800-member U.N. force Monday condemned an apparent coup attempt against President Joseph Kabila’s fragile power-sharing government, and fighters loyal to Congo’s former dictator denied responsibility for the attacks.

Congo’s capital was calm Monday, a day after gun and mortar battles between loyalist troops and the attackers, who hit military installations and broadcast centers.

Diplomats called it a failed putsch against Kabila’s year-old administration, and they, Congolese army officers and others blamed fighters loyal to late Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

The uprising marked the most serious attack on Kabila’s government and worst violence in Congo’s capital since the end of the country’s five-year war, which split the Western Europe-size nation into rebel and government territory and brought the deaths of up to 3 million people.

President addresses nation
Kabila appeared on state TV Sunday night to say order had been restored. Looking relaxed, he was flanked by his four vice presidents in the postwar unity government, which is struggling to assert control over the formerly rebel-held north and east.

“They were terrorists and uncivil individuals who wanted to take over military installations,” Kabila said, without specifying who the attackers were following. “I’m happy they were routed.”

Kabila said the armed forces had received “precise instructions” to protect the population.

Top officials were meeting in emergency session Monday.

The U.N. Congo mission — which is helping shepherd Congo to lasting peace — condemned the attacks “in the strongest terms,” saying it “wishes a timely normalization of the situation in order to put the population at ease.”

International forces stepped up patrols in Kinshasa, a sprawling, decrepit riverside capital crowded with millions of war refugees.

Capital returns to normal
Kinshasa began returning to normal Monday, with shops reopening and fleets of taxis and buses in the streets.

Kabila’s administration has refused to characterize Sunday’s deadly clashes as an attempted coup.

Fighters loyal to Mobutu, Congo’s three-decade ruler, were among those who launched Sunday’s uprising, British Ambassador Jim Atkinson told The Associated Press, in an account backed by loyalist Congolese army officers and others.

Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 by then-ruler Laurent Kabila, Joseph Kabila’s father. Mobutu died in exile shortly after his overthrow.

As Laurent Kabila’s insurgents entered Kinshasa in 1997, thousands of Mobutu loyalists scattered, and many live in surrounding countries, including neighboring Republic of Congo.

Many of the ex-Mobutu loyalists are disgruntled over their virtual exclusion from Congo’s peace deal — preventing them from sharing in proceeds from the rich diamond and gold mines and lush forests.

Mobutu backers deny involvement
On Monday, representatives of Mobutu’s forces living in exile across the Congo River — in Brazzaville, capital of Republic of Congo — said they wanted to return home to join Congo’s new army, but denied any in their ranks had been involved in the Kinshasa attack.

“We’re favorable to the peace process ... and we want to return without condition to participate,” said Germain Ndaba, president of a group representing the ex-soldiers.

Sunday’s attacks came before dawn and lasted through four hours of gunfire that kept most Kinshasa inhabitants indoors.

Hundreds of Congolese took to the streets to cheer government troops when the shooting eased in early afternoon as the government apparently overcame the attacks.

Congolese officials said the simultaneous attacks targeted an army camp near Kabila’s offices, a military airport, a naval shipyard on the Congo river and the national radio and TV headquarters.

Congolese forces apprehended 12 assailants, officials said, adding that untold numbers of the civilian-clothed attackers disappeared into the city. One soldier died in the fighting and two others were wounded.

Weapons found
After the fighting, authorities seized six rocket-propelled grenades, two mortar tubes, 30 grenades, 75 AK-47 assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, the army said.

Congo officials said the government would continue trying to help Congo emerge from its latest and deadliest war, which saw rebels backed by neighboring Uganda and Rwanda take control of the east and much of the north.

Joseph Kabila has been in power since January 2001, when bodyguards assassinated his father.

The U.N. peacekeepers in Congo are helping the transitional government prepare for elections to be held in less than two years.

Despite Congo’s potential mineral riches, decades of brutal Belgian colonial administration, corrupt post-1960 independence rule and warfare has left its 57 million people among the world’s poorest.