Kabila accuses Rwanda of backing rebels
President Joseph Kabila accused neighbouring Rwanda of being behind the renegade soldiers who on Wednesday captured a provincial capital in the volatile east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Bukavu, the capital of Sud-Kivu province, fell to renegade troops led by two generals from the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), a former Rwandan-backed rebel group that is now represented in the transitional government in Kinshasa under the terms of a 2003 peace deal.
Fighting in Bukavu has left around 60 people dead over the past week.
“It is clearly an attack on our country by Rwandan troops,” Kabila said on national television on Wednesday evening, calling for a “general mobilisation” of all human, financial and material resources to “defend the nation”.
“We must retake control of the town, reimpose order and reinstall the legitimate authorities who were recently appointed,” said Kabila, who is also the country’s military commander-in-chief.
The country’s transition government, which met in emergency session, called on Kabila to use his executive powers to declare a state of emergency throughout the entire country.
During DRC’s devastating 1998-2003 civil war, which began in the Kivu provinces, Bukavu was an RCD-stronghold.
The leaders of the assault, who claimed on Wednesday they remained loyal to the transitional government, formerly held key positions in the RCD, which has condemned their attack.
They are also members of the Banyamulenge, seen by many in the DRC as more Rwandan that Congolese.
Bukavu fell in the presence of hundreds of UN peackeepers, whose mandate restricts their use of force to situations where their own lives, or those of civilians, are threatened.
News of the development prompted dozens of students in Kinshasa to demonstrate outside the UN mission’s (Monuc) headquarters, accusing the peacekeepers of complicity in Bukavu’s fall. They set fire to two UN vehicles before police dispersed them.
“The dissident troops of Laurent Nkunda and Jules Mutebusi control the town,” a senior Monuc official in Bukavu said on Wednesday afternoon.
Both men said that their forces, numbering between 4 000 and 8 000 men, had taken Bukavu.
Speaking to the press in the gardens of the the provincial governor’s residence later in the day, Nkunda tried to assuage fears that another rebellion was under way, saying he remained loyal to the transitional government in Kinshasa.
“I recognise the transitional government but it must appoint a new commander,” he said.
“The supreme head of the army is President [Joseph] Kabila,” he said, denying that Rwanda had any role in recent events.
“I am ready to pull out [of Bukavu] on Kinshasa’s orders. I am ready if new military authorities are named for Sud-Kivu and they undertake to protect the Banyamulenge population,” he said, referring to Tutsis of Rwandan origin living in eastern DRC.
He said he had a list of 27 Banyamulenge civilians killed during the recent clashes.
“I came to save the Banyamulenge,” said Nkunda, whose official military area of responsibility is the adjacent Nord-Kivu province.
The UN Security Council on Wednesday strongly condemned the unrest in Sud-Kivu.
“The members of the council strongly condemned the fighting which arose in Bukavu, recently causing the deaths of a number of innocent civilians,” it said in a statement.
“They condemned these acts of violence and the human rights violations that accompanied them, and called upon all parties involved to bring an end to these hostilities immediately,” it said.
“We are deeply concerned and we strongly condemn that fighting that has continued in and around [Bukavu] since last Wednesday,” said US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher in Washington.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also expressed concern over the fighting.
Bukavu had been calm from Friday until shooting broke out early Wednesday morning, although Nkunda’s group clashed with regular troops every day since Sunday near the airport serving the town, about 30km to the north.
Monuc has brought in hundreds of reinforcements to Bukavu since last week.