Darkness Returning to Heart of Africa; CHAOS IN CONGO AFTER PRESIDENT IS SHOT

The Mirror (London, England), January 18, 2001 | Go to article overview

Darkness Returning to Heart of Africa; CHAOS IN CONGO AFTER PRESIDENT IS SHOT


Byline: DAVID LEIGH, Foreign Editor

AFRICA'S third biggest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, was on the brink of chaos last night after the shooting of its leader Laurent Kabila.

The man billed as Congo's saviour when he swept to power in 1997 had managed the near-impossible feat of becoming more reviled than the veteran dictator he replaced in 1997, President Mobutu.

Kabila's promise to steer the Congo - renamed from Zaire that year - into a bright new era brought nothing but bloodshed and brutality.

He resorted to buying his power from neighbouring countries' troops with the lure of his country's vast stocks of diamonds - the guerrilla's best friend.

On Tuesday, Kabila was reported to have been shot dead by one of his guards in his hilltop palace in the capital Kinshasa. Defence Minister Moven Mahachi was quoted by state news agency Ziana as saying that Kabila had died.

Just 24 hours later his reported assassination looked to be somewhat premature, with Congolese government officials insisting he had been wounded but was still alive.

Last night Congo's ambassador to Zimbabwe said Kabila was in a critical condition after being flown to Zimbabwe for treatment.

Kikaya bien Karubi said the president had been transferred from a clinic in Kinshasa.

"``As we speak there is a team of Congolese doctors who are attending to him. Obviously he is in a very critical condition but he has not passed away yet,'' he said live on Zimbabwe state television.

As Joseph, the eldest of his estimated 10 children, took temporary charge yesterday, Kabila's Congo remained locked in the hideous war that has sucked in seven countries and destablilised the heart of Africa.

The leader, best known for his jolly smile and penchant for safari suits, has for the past two years tried to regain control of huge swathes of his resource-rich country from an array of rebel forces.

He only managed to cling to power by signing over, in desperation, diamond mining concessions to President Mugabe's Zimbabwe, whose well-organised troops have repeatedly bailed him out.

Y OU wouldn't have Zimbabwe in there without the diamonds," said Alex Yearsley, campaigner for human rights group Global Witness.

"That is their payment for having troops on Congo's soil."

All the countries involved in the fighting have been drawn in by the promise of a share of Congo's rich resources of rubber, ivory, timber, copper, gold and other rare minerals.

It was this wealth of resources which first attracted its former colonial power, Belgium, more than a century ago.

The country was ruthlessly exploited by its European masters in a period hauntingly described in Joseph Conrad's 1898 novel, Heart Of Darkness.

Recently there have been attempts to stop the trade in so-called "blood diamonds" - gems given to fighters across the African continent in payment for their services.

The UN Security Council last week circulated proposals for an embargo on exports of all diamonds from Liberia, following similar bans of diamonds from neighbouring Sierra Leone and Angola.

Congo would almost certainly have been next on the hit list.

When Kabila became president, he promised to rebuild the nation left in ruins by Mobutu Sese Seko, who became one of the world's richest men by plundering the country's vast mineral deposits. …

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