Kabila's Son Takes over as Interim Head of Congo

By Herbert, Ross | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 18, 2001 | Go to article overview

Kabila's Son Takes over as Interim Head of Congo


Herbert, Ross, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


ASMARA, Eritrea - Congolese Cabinet officials thrust President Laurent Kabila's son into power yesterday, making him head of the vast, crisis-torn African nation a day after the senior Kabila was reportedly killed in a palace attack.

Reports that Mr. Kabila had died continued to mount. Congolese officials, however, insisted he was wounded but alive when they announced the temporary measures to fill the power vacuum that has threatened to throw Congo into even more turmoil.

"Until President Kabila has recovered, and to ensure stability, the government has decided to give command of the government and military to Maj. Gen. Joseph Kabila," the Associated Press quoted Communications Minister Dominique Sakombi Inongo as saying after an emergency Cabinet meeting.

The younger Kabila, who already heads the armed forces, was reported to have been injured in the 30 minutes of intense gunfire Tuesday at the presidential residence in Kinshasa. He made no public appearance yesterday. State-run television broadcast footage of the uniformed major general sitting silently, twisting his beret, but it was not immediately clear when the images were recorded.

The reported death of Laurent Kabila, a longtime rebel who himself was thrust into power in an attempt by Rwanda and Uganda to win Congolese cooperation in snuffing out their own rebellions, will be felt far beyond the borders of his nation.

With Congo embroiled in what outgoing Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright called "Africa's first world war," the killing of Mr. Kabila, if true, has the potential to set off a scramble by the politically ambitious in Kinshasa and by allies and enemies who have spent more than two years fighting over the fate of this vast, mineral-rich central African nation.

KABILA ACCUMULATED FOES

A mercurial figure who ruled by erratic decrees, Mr. Kabila has accumulated a wide array of enemies inside and outside Congo since he came to power in the 1997 war that toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who has since died.

He was initially embraced by a Congo eager for change, who saw Mr. Kabila as a reformer and a genuine nationalist. Western governments were prepared to fund Mr. Kabila, but he quickly displayed an intolerant, combative persona. He banned political activity and frequently jailed critics and journalists.

Rwanda, whose troops did most of the fighting to oust Gen. Mobutu, put Mr. Kabila in power at the head of a rebel coalition. Angry over his embracing Rwandan Hutu rebels - ousted as Rwanda's government after the April-July 1994 genocide targeting the ethnic Tutsi minority - Rwanda attacked Congo 15 months after Mr. Kabila's accession, along with an eastern Congo rebel group.

Neighboring Uganda joined Rwanda against Congo, but Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia rescued Mr. Kabila from imminent defeat by supplying him with thousands of troops. The warring sides have since been in a military stalemate that has divided the nation roughly in half.

The assassination drama follows months of deep discontent in the Congolese army and military defeats in recent weeks as Mr. Kabila's army and allied Angolan, Zimbabwean and Namibian forces were driven out of key towns in the mineral-rich southeastern province of Katanga.

POWER VACUUM FEARED

The United Nations, news agencies and diplomats in Kinshasa reported that heavy machine-gun fire was heard Tuesday around Mr. Kabila's Kinshasa residence, the Marble Palace. Unconfirmed reports said Mr. Kabila met with his generals over the Katanga defeats.

An argument reportedly took place, possibly over presidential threats to fire army leaders. Some sources said Mr. Kabila was shot by a bodyguard, while others said one of the military men in the meeting shot him in the back and leg.

An African diplomat in Kinshasa said diplomats were concerned about a power vacuum despite the naming of his son to lead. …

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