The New 'Congo' Tries to Restrain Its Vengeance Widespread Killings Are Avoided So Far; Elite Mobutu Soldiers Take Their Arms into Hiding

By Judith Matloff, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 21, 1997 | Go to article overview

The New 'Congo' Tries to Restrain Its Vengeance Widespread Killings Are Avoided So Far; Elite Mobutu Soldiers Take Their Arms into Hiding


Judith Matloff, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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-Desire 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. …

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