The New 'Congo' Tries to Restrain Its Vengeance
Widespread killings are avoided so far; elite Mobutu soldiers take their arms into hiding
KINSHASA, CONGO — By the side of a dusty road in Kinshasa, a tomb has been set up for a man who isn't dead. A crowd gathers around this inglorious memorial to former President Mobutu Sese Seko, yelling insults at the portraits and paper money with his image that decorate the mock grave.
A sign attached to the top says simply: "May he rest in disorder."
Mr. Mobutu has fled the country. His regime fell May 17 to the rebels of Laurent-Desir Kabila, who walked into the capital with hardly a fight.
The question now is: Will the vitriol pent up after nearly 32 years of callous lack of governance prove hard to erase?
Since the fall of the capital, Kinshasa, aid officials say at least 222 people have been killed, mainly looters and supporters of Mobutu who have been lynched, dragged through the streets, or shot. Some perpetrators were ordinary citizens who had scores to settle with the former government's soldiers, who terrorized them with impunity.
The number of killings has not surprised many foreign observers, given that a country of 45 million has just been freed from a hated regime. Many of the killings are spontaneous. But they are still disturbing.
Enthusiastic crowds sacked the residences of Mobutu and his family, carrying off furniture and mementos, partaking of wealth they felt should have been theirs.
Human rights observers say such anger is understandable considering the repressive nature of the Mobutu years. They say it is remarkably contained considering the size of this city of 5 million. But there is a nagging worry that violent revenge could continue unchecked.
"It would be amazing if an initial bloodletting didn't go on. I am hardly surprised this has occurred, considering what went on for 32 years," says one foreign humanitarian aid worker. "You can't just wave a magic wand and say everything is fine.
"But is it drawing to an end? We don't know," the worker says.
Many of the incidents are spontaneous, such as a near lynching of a man outside the French Embassy whom the crowd presumed to be a Mobutu supporter. (During the past seven months, there have been scattered reports of summary executions by Mr. Kabila's forces as they moved across Zaire.)
But the rebels who have installed their rule in the sprawling capital are renowned for their military discipline, as well as their disciplined control over territory they have won. They have encouraged many of the soldiers of the former government to give themselves up without a fight.
Within a day of taking the city, Kabila's well-organized troops set up an emergency hot-line number where civilians could report incidents of disorder and looting, as well as the location of government soldiers who had not given themselves up.
Among those most sought are members of the dreaded presidential guard, the DSP, who took off their uniforms when the rebels came to town and have gone underground with their arms.
Foreign observers are split over how large a security threat the DSP represents. "It is a potential problem," says one Western diplomat. But most say it is likely that Kabila's army will be able to root them out. On May 20, a group of DSP men reportedly appeared at Tshatshi, a Mobutu government military camp, to hand over their weapons and register so they could go home.
EARLY May 17, just as the rebels moved into the city, DSP forces murdered Mobutu's military chief of staff, Gen. Marc Mahele Lieko Bokungu.
General Mahele, a moderate, has become a sort of martyr after attempting to negotiate a peaceful entry by the rebels. He was shot after a visit to troops at the Tshatshi military camp in which he urged them not to resist.
Opposition leaders who narrowly escaped a similar fate say the DSP has a hit list. They say they still do not feel safe.
Leaders of the 5,000-strong DSP escaped across the river to Brazzaville, Congo Republic, in boats, along with dozens of members of Mobutu's family and political entourage. But many DSP stayed behind in Kinshasa or are believed to have fled south to Matadi port, fueling fears of more violence.
Some local human rights workers are trying to go abroad because of fear for their lives.
These are still uneasy days for those targeted by the DSP. A staff member of former Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo, who requested anonymity, still has not returned home after two heavily armed DSP men came looking for her the day the rebel troops arrived.
"It was premeditated," says her husband. "The houses surrounding ours are of rich people. They targeted us for political reasons."
Lambert Mende, a former transport and communications minister, says DSP men came three times to his house May 17. They beat his guard to try to force him to reveal where Mr. Mende was hiding. When the guard remained silent, they smashed the door, took a pot of food from the stove, seized mattresses and clothes, and drove away in Mende's car. They left their own vehicle behind. In it were their identity documents.
"I know the man who was responsible. He was close to Kongolo [Mobutu's son]," Mende says. He says top generals had grievances against him for denouncing their arms sales to the rebel movement UNITA in neighboring Angola.
Mende is back in his house but has a bad feeling. "There were two suspicious people here yesterday looking around. I don't feel safe," he says.