Congo unravels again Kabila: New ruler violates human rights, provokes foreign allies to rebel against him.

August 22, 1998

IN 14 MONTHS as ruler of Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, Laurent Kabila has not coped.

His victory last year over the tyranny of Mobutu Sese Seko was greeted with joy. But it was easy to doubt he was up to the job.

A small-time revolutionary of the 1960s, he was propped up by an invading army of largely Rwandan Tutsis defending the Banyamulenge, their kin in Congo, and pursuing their Hutu enemy. The people wanted anyone but Mobutu.

The rebellion against Mr. Kabila, now spreading from eastern Congo toward the capital Kinshasa, appears to come from the Tutsi army that put him in power but also to be picking up Congolese soldiers. It follows his cabinet purge and sacking of the Rwandan Tutsi commander of Congo's army.

A recent United Nations inquiry into war massacres reported a "climate of terror" in the Congo -- and a "total absence of cooperation."

Inadequate as Mr. Kabila may be, the worst outcome for the country of great natural wealth and diverse population would be disintegration amid ethnic slaughter. African countries did not throw off colonialism to be subjugated by the one small military caste or to descend into permanent anarchy.

When Mr. Kabila ordered the last Rwandan troops out of the country, more entered. He rounded up Banyamulenge in the capital. Three who occupied top posts fled. He has vowed to crush the rebellion, but his most disciplined troops are now rebels.

Even this much anarchy and ethnic persecution sets back hopes of restarting the mining industries of the interior on which Congo's economy depends. The efforts of African neighbors and of the United States should be directed, first, to dissuade others from invading; then, at shoring up stability; then, at convincing Mr. Kabila to share power. That is what President Clinton tried to persuade him to do when they met in Uganda last March.

The alternative is a bitter civil war, possibly within a wider war pitting some African countries supporting the Kabila regime against others aiding the rebels. Everybody would lose that one.

Pub Date: 8/22/98

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