At the Heart of an African Rebellion
A rebel leader claimed yesterday that his forces will bring down the Congo leader 'within a few weeks.'
GOMA, CONGO — On Aug. 2 a little-known Army officer named Sylvin Buki went on local radio in this eastern city of Congo and announced that the 15-month regime of Laurent Kabila had just come to an end.
His words were more prediction than fact. But his broadcast was the first word that war had begun in the Congo - the second within two years.
Yesterday, Commander Buki, who says he leads the Congolese Army's 10th Brigade of 15,000 soldiers, said in a Monitor interview that anti-Kabila forces would take the capital "within a few weeks."
Fighting rages on many fronts in Congo, with victories and setbacks for both sides, while international concern has been diverted to the anti-American bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
But this war to control the largest country below the Sahara may end up redefining boundaries in the heart of Africa.
Buki claimed the rebellion was against corruption under Kabila, but evidence piles up that neighboring Rwanda is backing and possibly leading it.
"We will be in Matadi in 10, 15 days, and after that it will be a few weeks before we get to Kinshasa," he said. Matadi, roughly 150 miles west of the capital, is currently under attack by the rebel army, largely composed of ethnic Tutsis of Rwanda origins who fought alongside Rwandan and Ugandan troops in the war to topple longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko last year.
General supply routes to the capital go through Matadi, and with rebel forces reportedly in control of Boma and Muanda on the Atlantic coast, Commander Buki says Kabila's Army did not stand a serious chance.
"There is room for negotiations, but only with Kabila negotiating his own departure from power. First, we get rid of Kabila, then the politicians meet and decide what to do with the country. We cannot go on with a president who monopolizes all the power."
Kabila and Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu attended a six-nation African summit Saturday, but little came of it.
Meanwhile, reports of Uganda's involvement in the fighting has been confirmed by the presence of two Uganda Army columns, apparently backed by tanks, in the town of Bunia, directly across the border from Uganda.
Buki denied reports of Uganda's and Rwanda's involvement, saying there were enough men in his brigade to "do all the fighting that needs to be done."
Troops from neighboring Rwanda, however, were clearly crossing the border carrying men and equipment. An average of seven flights a day were seen crossing the Rwanda-Congo border in the last few days alone.
An officer from the southern province of Katama, Buki said the rebels' objective was to "rectify the situation" and turn the country over to "a competent leader."
"We are starting from scratch. We are going back to where we were almost two years ago," when a Rwandan-led rebel movement, also composed of Congolese Tutsis, swept across this vast country in seven months, delivering Kabila to power.
"The Rwandans have their own problems," Buki said. "As far as we are concerned, all we will do is stop Rwanda militias from attacking Rwanda from the liberated provinces."
Ethnic Hutu extremists waging a war against the Tutsi-led government in Rwanda have used eastern Congo as a base for operations after the genocide against Tutsis in 1994.
Over the last 15 months, they have launched devastating cross-border raids and fomented a violent Hutu rebellion in the Rwandan provinces of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. According to observers, the failure by Kabila to establish control over the remote eastern provinces was a key factor in last week's decision to ignore Kabila's decision to expel all Rwandan troops from Congo and launch an attack instead. "Everyone is with us," Buki assured. "The people, the police, the Army."
But in the streets of Goma, resentment against the Congolese Tutsis, known as Banyamulenge, and the Rwandans - both of whom are seen as foreign - have several residents rooting for Kabila.
"Can they take over Kinshasa?" one resident said. "Probably. But as a Congolese, I can say that people here are on Kabila's side because he is Congolese."