Army restores order to DRC capital, Bemba wanted
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army restored order to the capital Kinshasa on Friday after two days of heavy fighting with troops loyal to former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who the government accused of treason.
Sporadic shooting continued after dark in the downtown area around United Nations headquarters, where about 900 civilians were earlier evacuated amid shooting and mortar fire which left the streets strewn with discarded uniforms and bodies.
There were reports of widespread looting in the Central African nation’s sprawling riverside capital of more than eight million people. The UN mission in Congo (Monuc) said the battle had caused considerable material damage.
“Monuc welcomes the restoration of order in Kinshasa by government forces,” it said in a statement, calling for its peacekeepers to be allowed secure access to those in need of food and medical attention.
Bemba, who lost landmark post-war elections last year to President Joseph Kabila, remained holed up in the South African embassy after the government ordered his arrest on charges of high treason for starting the uprising.
Diplomats said Bemba would remain in the embassy while Pretoria decided what to do with him. Bemba, who as a senator holds immunity from prosecution, has accused the government of trying to kill him to cripple his opposition coalition.
The battles began on Thursday when about 500 fighters loyal to Bemba defied a government order to disarm under a plan to cut his security detail to just 12 police officers.
By Friday evening, his forces appeared to have been routed by better-equipped army troops. More than 100 of his supporters had given themselves up at the fortified UN mission, with more reported to have surrendered at the main army base.
“I came for treatment. I’m worried, I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” one of Bemba’s fighters, Bienvenu Mbongo (27) told Reuters. His legs were bandaged after a bullet sliced through his right calf muscle and lodged in his left foot.
It was not clear how many people were killed in the first clashes in Kinshasa since October’s presidential runoff. The vote was meant to turn the page on a 1998-2003 war which killed nearly four million people in the former Belgian colony.
Bemba, who enjoys strong support in Kinshasa and the lingala-speaking west of the DRC, insisted he would not surrender. The country’s politics is divided along ethnic lines with Kabila popular in the Swahili-speaking east.
“It is another way to try and neutralise me, because they didn’t manage to kill me and decapitate the opposition,” Bemba told Belgian RTBF radio. “My residence has been surrounded for two weeks, every night.”
Former presidential candidate Azarias Ruberwa, among those evacuated to the UN headquarters, said the fighting was hugely damaging to the DRC’s efforts to progress after the elections.
“We have lost a lot of credibility among our own population, among donors and among the international community. It will cost us dearly,” Ruberwa told Reuters inside the UN compound.
Residents reported incidents of looting across the city by soldiers from both sides as well as gangs of street children.
Loyalist soldiers entered at least one apartment block, a resident said, adding he saw six bodies lying in the street, two of them children. The joint Spanish and Greek embassy was damaged by artillery fire, the Greek foreign ministry said.
Nigeria’s ambassador told a Nigerian newspaper he had been injured in the leg, hand and head and UN peacekeepers could only rescue him from his residence once fighting subsided. - Reuters