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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 21:46 GMT 22:46 UK

World: Africa

DR Congo: What price peace?

By the BBC's Chris Simpson in Kigali

When the Congolese rebels first struck against Laurent Kabila back in August 1998, the talk was of taking over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in weeks, if not days.

[ image:  ]
With the governments of Rwanda and Uganda supplying much of its firepower and logistical support, and Kabila clearly caught off-guard, the newly-formed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) had reason to be confident.

"First we will take Kinshasa, then we will sort out Congo's political future", promised RCD military commander Jean-Pierre Ondekane.

But as the first anniversary of the rebellion draws close, the RCD is still a long way from securing a military victory, while also struggling to establish itself as a serious political force.

The rebels may hold close to 50 per cent of national territory, but they are still not in a position to dictate terms to Kabila.

RCD split

While Ondekane and his subordinates hint at the imminent capture of cities like Mbuji-Mayi and Lubumbashi, giving the rebels control of Congo's crucial mineral assets, the RCD's military gains have been overshadowed by internal divisions and the emergence of rival movements determined to steal its thunder.

To add to the RCD's problems, key allies Rwanda and Uganda have had serious differences on how best to fight the war, making competing claims on the rebel movement.

The RCD is now effectively split in two. After months of ill-concealed in-fighting, the rebels removed their original leader, Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba, replacing him with Emile Ilunga.

Wamba came to the rebellion with a strong record as a critic of both Laurent Kabila and his predecessor Mobutu Sese Seko, but was strongly criticised by rivals for his lack of political acumen and charisma.

Accused of deliberately isolating himself from his colleagues, abandoning the rebel capital Goma for the northern city of Kisangani, Wamba hit back with allegations of coups and corruption.

Improbable alliances

Rather than agreeing to go quietly, he staged a showdown with the new leadership, apparently with the support of the Ugandan military, and has since reportedly met with Laurent Kabila in Zimbabwe.

[ image: Laurent Kabila is holding on to diamond region]
Laurent Kabila is holding on to diamond region
Emile Ilunga was supposed to give the RCD a new sense of purpose. A Katangese, who has combined years of armed struggle and opposition politics with a medical career, Ilunga looked like a compromise choice for the presidency of a movement often criticised for its factionalism.

From its tentative beginnings a year ago, the RCD has brought together a remarkable range of political actors, with some highly improbable alliances being formed.

For example, Wamba's downfall was endorsed by Bizima Karaha, a Congolese Tutsi who served Laurent Kabila as foreign minister prior to the rebellion, and Lunda Bululu, one of Mobutu's many former prime ministers.

The RCD's difficulties have in no way hindered rival rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, whose Ugandan-backed Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) has taken over the rebellion's northern front.

Kabila 'under pressure'

Having made a rapid, if implausible, transformation from businessman to guerrilla leader, while seeing his father brought into Kabila's government, Bemba is demanding to be taken seriously. But sections of the RCD and the Rwandan government regard him with deep suspicion.

The rebels' problems may have helped Laurent Kabila in the short-term, but the Congolese leader is still under serious pressure.

Kabila has no real army of his own and has survived courtesy of a quickly assembled coalition of allies, including Angola, Namibia, Chad and, most critically, Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has talked of helping to defend a sovereign government against foreign invasion. But the assistance does not come free, with Kabila supposedly signing over huge mineral concessions and offering other financial guarantees to keep his allies loyal.

Battle for diamonds

The Zimbabweans have suffered heavy casualties in recent months, prompting hints that Mugabe would pull his troops out. That has not yet happened, but another defeat for Kabila, particularly the loss of Mbuji-Mayi and the diamonds that come with it, might force a change of heart.

The fighting in recent months has been sketchy and sporadic. Both sides routinely report new acquisitions and victories, but the balance of control remains broadly the same.

The rebels hold the east and parts of the north, but are not within striking distance of Kinshasa. Kabila has long promised a major counter-offensive but beyond the bombing of Goma has been largely on the defensive.

High profile efforts continue to broker some kind of settlement, with President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia and Colonel Gadhafi of Libya both cast as mediators. But neither side appears willing to compromise.

The Ilunga-led RCD still appears to be heavily dominated by Rwanda, which has its own security agenda in Congo and is intent on eliminating hostile Interahamwe militia forces it believes to be allied with Kabila.

Until the Rwandans have dealt with that problem there will be no support in Kigali for a ceasefire.

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