U.S. warns Africa against land grab in Congo

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at SPAMtao.ca
Thu Jan 18 08:59:19 MST 2001


U.S. warns Africa against land grab in Congo

By PAUL KNOX
>From Thursday's Globe [and Mail]

The United States warned warring African nations against a land or power grab in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo Wednesday after Tuesday's shooting of President
Laurent Kabila.

"It is essential that the foreign forces who occupy large parts of the Congo halt
their offensive action," Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,
told African diplomats at the UN.

"They should not seek to take advantage of the events in Kinshasa to expand their
presence."

The warning came as the Congolese regime announced that Mr. Kabila's son Joseph,
already chief of the armed forces, had taken control of the civilian government.

Government spokesmen insisted that the older Mr. Kabila remained alive after being
shot on Tuesday while in his palatial Kinshasa residence. But in Zimbabwe, his chief
ally in a war that has engulfed Congo, the defence minister said the President died
while being flown there for emergency medical treatment.

Reuters quoted political sources in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, as saying the
Congolese authorities were delaying the announcement of Mr. Kabila's death while they
imposed new security arrangements.

Aides to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said he would fly home early from a
Franco-African summit meeting in Cameroon but did not say why, Reuters said.

As Africa and the West scrambled to assess the fallout from the attack on Mr. Kabila,
Mr. Holbrooke called for fresh efforts to set Congo and its 52 million people on the
road to democracy after more than a century under Belgian colonial rule and
home-grown dictatorships.

"The Congo must undergo a peaceful democratic transition whether or not President
Kabila has survived," said the ambassador, who leaves office Saturday when George W.
Bush is inaugurated as president.

"We must all work aggressively and proactively with the Congolese people to bring
about a situation where arbitrary rule and division is replaced by inclusive and
broad-based governance."

A text of Mr. Holbrooke's remarks was supplied by the U.S. mission to the UN.

Rwanda and Uganda, considered pro-Washington, are former Kabila allies whose troops
have been fighting alongside antigovernment Congolese rebels since 1998. Angola,
Namibia and Zimbabwe have sided with Mr. Kabila.

"I hope the Americans will put pressure on [Rwanda and Uganda] to refrain from moving
ahead to occupy the rest of the country," said Akouété Akakpo-Vidah, Africa program
officer with the Montreal-based group Rights and Democracy.

Little is known outside Congo about Joseph Kabila, described in reports from Kinshasa
as shy and unimpressive in contrast to his ebullient father.

He is more comfortable among the English and Swahili-speaking people of East Africa,
where he was born while his father was in exile, than in the Lingala and French
Congolese cultures, Reuters said.

With no sign of a split in the army or in Mr. Kabila's inner circle, analysts
predicted few immediate changes in Congo's landscape of war, poverty and economic
ruin.

But they said his death could touch off a scramble for territory or to renegotiate
deals on control of mineral and timber resources that previously depended on Mr.
Kabila's will.

Congo, larger than Ontario and Quebec combined, is rich in gold, copper, cobalt and
diamonds and has vast stands of tropical hardwoods. Zimbabwe is widely believed to be
compensated in diamonds worth tens of millions of dollars for its military support.

"Kabila has shown a very capricious nature in terms of his willingness to grant
economic licences to those countries or others around the world and then remove
them," said David Pottie, senior researcher at the Electoral Institute of South
Africa in Johannesburg.

"The removal of Kabila would put some of those agreements in jeopardy."

Also uncertain is the effect Mr. Kabila's death would have on a long-stalled
"national dialogue" aimed at a pact to hold elections and a new constitution.

Political freedom was curtailed under Mr. Kabila and dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, whom
he overthrew in 1997. Few civilian leaders are widely known or supported.

"You need a person to step in and open the national dialogue," said Marina Ottaway,
senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

"There's certainly nobody who has been identified so far. And I doubt very much if
[Mr. Kabila's] son could be the one to play that role."


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Macdonald Stainsby

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