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Congo Time Line

  Congo Begins Process of Rebuilding Nation

By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 20, 1997; Page A10

The rebel movement that toppled Mobutu Sese Seko and seized control of this country took its first tentative steps toward fixing the ruined economy and civic life of this vast capital city today.

At the same time, members of the business elite that benefited from Mobutu's autocratic rule sought assurances about their standing with the new government.

The explosion of euphoria that has gripped Kinshasa since the rebels entered on Saturday continued today as civil servants returned to their jobs and merchants returned to their market stalls. But new tensions could be felt in some quarters because of spiraling prices, food and gasoline shortages and the general economic anarchy brought on by Kinshasa's fall. And with officials of Laurent Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire spreading their military apparatus throughout the city, the hunt was underway for suspected enemies.

Two days after a sweep into the city that left 222 of its 5 million people dead, alliance officials set up headquarters at the posh Intercontinental Hotel. The corridors were filled all day with the anxious din of hundreds of business, political and civic leaders, all awaiting clues on how the alliance will govern. Jose Endondo Bononge, chairman of the National Chamber of Commerce, said business leaders are eager to participate in alliance plans. "We are here to make this country work," he said.

Now that their military victory is sealed after a seven-month drive across Africa's third-largest nation, the alliance's first political signals came in the form of a town hall-style meeting with business leaders. The alliance's planning minister, Babi Mbayi, sought their comments and questions on several issues, such as currency fluctuation and the flow of goods around the country. Regarding business leaders who flourished under -- and because of -- Mobutu's corrupt and venal government, Mbayi offered assurances to the crowd of about 500.

"We are a government that forgives," he said. "We will not waste our time hunting people or settling scores."

That reassuring and participatory style of leadership seemed to contradict, however, the alliance's declaration that Kinshasans, especially the poor, will need to undergo ideological reeducation. The alliance has employed the technique in many cities seized during its military campaign, making indoctrination classes a prerequisite for those seeking jobs within the alliance. Also to be instituted here are citizens' "cells" at the neighborhood level to maintain order.

Repeating what alliance officials have said for months, Deogratias Bugera, an alliance spokesman, said today that political reeducation in the post-Mobutu era will be a first step to holding elections. Alliance officials say Zairians are beset by a "spirit of submission and servility" dating from the days of colonialism and exploited further by Mobutu's three decades of callous rule, Bugera said in the alliance's first news conference here.

Kabila, who remained in the southern city of Lubumbashi today, is expected in Kinshasa on Tuesday to announce an interim national government, and he has pledged to establish a constituent assembly in 60 days. Although Kabila, who has proclaimed himself president, has assured foreign nations that elections ultimately will be held, his officials have set no date. Opinion polling -- an inexact science here -- suggests that Kabila would not win the presidency. Many people see him as a valiant liberator but say they hope to finally have a choice for president -- something Mobutu never allowed.

Kabila's alliance has renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of Congo, and State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said in Washington that the United States will refer to the country by its new name -- actually the name it adopted at independence in 1960, only to have Mobutu change it in 1971. "Zaire went away on Friday afternoon," Burns said, pegging the change to the point at which Mobutu fled Kinshasa. "That country has vanished."

The name change is sure to create confusion, and perhaps diplomatic friction, with Congo's neighbor -- the Republic of Congo.

But alliance officials have many more immediate and pressing problems to contend with, all of which converge on Kinshasa. The commercial infrastructure has been so pillaged and neglected by Mobutu and his ruling circle that banks are only marginal economic players; most commerce is conducted in the informal sector or black market. Roads are so rutted that cars can be swallowed by gaping potholes. Electricity does not operate in many neighborhoods. Effective health care is virtually nonexistent, while malaria and other diseases run rampant.

On the political front, Kinshasa was tied in political knots for seven years as Mobutu's supporters and their parliamentary opponents wrangled over democratic reforms but never actually produced them. Kabila's movement has sent mixed messages to opposition figures who demand a role in the new government .

With the arrival of Kabila's forces, many of whom are ethnic Tutsis from eastern Zaire or Rwanda, yet another volatile element has entered the mix. Thirteen patients were removed from a Kinshasa hospital today by rebel soldiers, who beat them and took them to a rebel camp, a health official said. Reportedly among them were several men suspected of being Rwandan Hutus who fought against the rebels on the side of Mobutu's army.

Bloodshed between Hutus and Tutsis has cost hundreds of thousands of lives in central Africa in recent decades. In 1994, Hutu soldiers and militiamen in Rwanda killed an estimated half-million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The killers mingled with thousands of Hutu civilians who fled to Zaire after Tutsi forces stopped the massacres, and many of them became gunmen on the side of Mobutu's army in its unsuccessful bid to halt Kabila's rebellion. Kabila's forces have been accused of massacring Rwandan Hutus -- gunmen and innocent refugees alike -- in their sweep across the country.

The hospital patients who were abducted reportedly also included Mobutu's soldiers and Angolans. Guerrillas of Angola's former rebel movement UNITA, long supported by Mobutu in an unsuccessful war against Angola's government, also fought for Mobutu against Kabila's forces.

In another incident today, a crowd bent on lynching chased -- but failed to catch -- a man accused of being a member of Mobutu's elite guard, according to the Reuter news service.

Over the weekend, several soldiers in Mobutu's armed forces were killed by angry mobs, but most soldiers' deaths appear to have occurred at the hands of rebels in a series of relatively minor battles in Kinshasa with the few holdouts of Mobutu's forces. At least one soldier was summarily executed by alliance troops.

The total death toll for the weekend takeover stood at 222 today, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The occupation of the city sent scores of high-level military and political figures who were close to Mobutu across the Congo River in boats to Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo.

Among them was one of Mobutu's sons, Capt. Mobutu Kongolo of the military's Special Presidential Division, who is nicknamed "Saddam Hussein" and is reviled by many. Kabila's forces have accused him of killing Mobutu Sese Seko's last defense minister and army chief of staff, Gen. Mahele Lieko Bakungo, who had warned the elder Mobutu that Kinshasa could not be defended from the onslaught. The general was assassinated while trying to persuade the loyal presidential division to lay down its arms.

But Guy Vanda, a top aide to Mobutu Kongolo, said he is not worried. He is among a second tier of Mobutu loyalists who remained here, staying in the hotel that has become the alliance's headquarters. Vanda said he should have no trouble because he was a business adviser to Mobutu Kongolo, not a military one. Mobutu Kongolo ran diamond and gasoline businesses in which Vanda was an aide.

As he watched Kinshasa's leading capitalists gather to meet the alliance leaders, Vanda said: "If they can accept these guys, I don't know why not me. I killed nobody. I disturbed nobody in doing my job. I feel I have to stay here in my country.

"If I have to be afraid, I have to be afraid of local people," he said, alluding to the desire for vengeance that Kinshasans may still harbor for those in the old government.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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