DRC foils coup

And President Thabo Mbeki has urged the Democratic Republic of Congo to deal firmly with anyone seeking to destabilise that country, SABC radio news reported on Thursday. He said if South Africans were involved in attempts to overthrow the DRC government, strong action should be taken against them. “Clearly, if there are any South Africans who are involved in any illegal processes in the Congo intended to destabilise and affect the elections, I think the Congolese government needs to act firmly against those people as we would within the context of our own law,” Mbeki told the broadcaster. “Anybody who would plan to engage in military action intended to disrupt the processes leading to elections in the Congo, I’m quite sure they would fail.” The vast mineral rich southern African country is due to hold presidential elections on July 30, this year. DRC government spokesman Henri Mova Sakanyi said recently there was proof that 30 foreigners arrested for a suspected coup plot were mercenaries coming back from Iraq. “About 30 people claiming to work for a security company have been arrested. They say they were working for the company but our information suggests they had other intentions,” Sakanyi told Reuters. “They wanted to destabilise the institutions of the country, that means a coup attempt.” Sakanyi said the group had been arrested a few days ago but did not give any details other than that they worked for a security firm. “There are Nigerians, Americans and South Africans. They will be tried in court,” he said. At least 26 men – 19 of them carrying South African passports, three Americans and four Nigerians – were arrested on Friday (May 19, 2006) and are being held for an alleged coup plot. South Africa’s foreign affairs department said 16 of the South African passport holders were members of the Omega Security Company, which has contracts with the DRC’s National Transport office for the training of security personnel in Matadi, Boma and Mouanda. The other three South African passport holders worked for a mining company, Mirabulis, as interpreters. Video footage of those in detention was screened on television news bulletins on Wednesday. South Africa’s ambassador in Kinshasha, Sisa Ngombane, said this amounted to a “gross violation of their rights”. “We are unhappy about these allegations, as well as the Congolese’s planned telecasting of videos of the men,” Ngombane said. “(Broadcasting) such videos, while there is still no evidence against them, is a gross violation of their human rights.” Ngombane said South Africa had always had good relations with the government of President Joseph Kabila. South Africa is helping to monitor the run-up to the election in the DRC on July 30, and paying for the printing of the ballots. “The (Congolese) government is not being frank about its conduct,” said Ngombane, with reference to DRC home affairs minister Theophilus Mbemba’s claim on television that the men – all security guards – might be mercenaries. They were apparently unarmed when they were arrested, Beeld reported. Omega denied charges that any of its employees had been involved in a plot to overthrow the DRC government. A Western diplomat confirmed the nationalities. “They have been accused of being mercenaries as they have all come back from Iraq,” the diplomat said. “This is a clear sign that things are getting very tense in Kinshasa in the lead up to the elections,” an analyst, who declined to be named, said. “It is not clear whether this is a front to clamp down on people.” Long-awaited presidential and legislative elections are due in Congo on July 30 after repeated delays. They will be the first multi-party polls in four decades in the vast central African country. The elections are meant to draw a line under a war which was officially declared over in 2003 but sparked a humanitarian crisis that has killed 4 million people since the conflict began in 1998. Two years ago, the Zimbabwean government arrested another group of mercenaries headed for Equatorial Guinea to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and replace him with exiled opposition leader Severo Moto. Amongst the coup plotters were British nationals with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, accused of funding the coup attempt. This group was arrested when the plane they were travelling in stopped to refuel in Harare and that country’s alert security agencies suspected something was amiss. This group was also alleged to have been working for a security firm. And President Joseph Kabila is making sure that Angolan troops are present to guard the upcoming election. According to diplomats in Kinshasa he wants his former allies during the war, Namibia and Angola, to have a strong presence in a Southern African Development Community force, especially in the capital, to balance the UN and European Union presence. Kabila is aware of the on-the-record comments by the EU Special Envoy in the Great Lakes, Aldo Ajello, at a press conference in Brussels on April 4, when he said that one of the EU force’s objectives was to deter spoilers among the former warring sides, including the presidential faction. Kabila has sent his vice-president in charge of the reconstruction of the country, Abdoulaye Yerodia to Luanda to ask President Jose Eduardo dos Santos for a larger Angolan military engagement in the DRC. After the meeting Yerodia stressed Angola’s “fundamental role” in guaranteeing the security of the elections. Since the meeting on May 3 in Luanda between Dos Santos and Namibian Defence Minister Charles Namolo it has been widely expected that Angola would send troops as part of a SADC force. Further confirmation came during the sixth meeting of the Contact Group for the reform of the security sector in the DRC which took place in Luanda, with Angola, South Africa, the UN, the US, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the EU present. After that meeting the Angolan deputy minister for foreign affairs, George Chicoty said that the pre-election situation in the DRC deserved special attention and mentioned specifically delays in the creation of a Congolese national army, the reform of the police, and the disarmament of militias and armed groups. Angola is currently helping to train Congolese military – at the Kitona base in the Bas-Congo province – and police. It is also involved in the International Committee of Support for the Transition in the DRC together with Russia, the African Union and China and others. Neutrality assurances Regional concern at the incipient arrival of European troops has been mounting. In February SA Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said the EU plan was unwarranted and that SADC forces could supply the necessary security. The Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP) has said that the force would be there to support Kabila and protect European citizens. So it seemed necessary for the French army chief of staff, General Henri Bentegeat at a recent joint EU-African Union meeting on defence issues in Brazzaville, to declare officially the neutrality of the European operation, now called ‘Eufor DRC’. “The force will not be in charge of the electoral process or judge it. It will only intervene at MONUC’s request if it is disturbed by violence”, he said. MONUC officials repeated their neutrality assurances in response to a request by the former National Assembly chairman Olivier Kamitatu’s ‘Alliance for the Renaissance of Congo’ (ARC). He called on MONUC to disarm all militias, including the groups around the president and the vice-presidents. MONUC responded that its mandate consisted only in disarming foreign militias in Congo and those in Ituri. “MONUC does not want to interfere in Congolese domestic political affairs”, said its assistant spokesman, Jean-Tobie Okala. Kabila’s concerns may arise from the fact that MONUC is not hiding its willingness to discipline the government – and Kabila’s – FARDC (Armed Forces of the DRC). It recently noted that most human rights abuses were being committed by these troops, and a French MONUC general warned FARDC soldiers in Mahagi in Eastern Province on May 12 that they would be punished more severely than the militias for violations. The UN is visibly unconvinced by a recent communiqu’ from the Congolese army chief of staff announcing that 18 integrated brigades supposed to provide security during the polls would be fully trained by July 5. Defence Minister Adolphe Onusumba himself acknowledged during a visit to Goma last week that the training of six of the 18 brigades was running late, while integrated troops of the 9th infantry brigade at the Rumangabo military camp in North Kivu have protested at the postponement of the completion of their training on May 9, which would also have involved payouts. – Own staff agencies

May 2006
« Apr   Jun »