Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Kabila's forces crush latest coup attempt in Congo

NO STABILITY The crisis on Friday was the second this month for the young government of President Joseph Kabila, threatening the peace in central Africa

AP , KINSHASA, CONGO

Forces loyal to Congo's leader crushed a coup attempt by renegades within his own presidential guard in fighting that sent gunfire and explosions echoing through the capital of Africa's third-largest nation.

The crisis on Friday was the second this month for the 14-month-old government led by President Joseph Kabila, established to close a 1998 to 2002 war that was Africa's deadliest ever.

Kabila, appearing on state TV in khaki uniform hours after the uprising's leaders were sent fleeing, told Congolese to brace for future challenges.

"Stay calm, prepare yourself to resist -- because I will allow nobody to try a coup d'etat or to throw off course our peace process," Kabila declared.

"As for me, I'm fine," added the 32-year-old president, whose appearance quashed rumors he had been injured or killed.

At stake was the stability of Congo, and with it central Africa. Congo's five-year war had drawn in the armies of five foreign African countries, splitting a nation that before the war was one of the world's largest mineral producers, including the No. 3 exporter of rough diamonds and holder of 80 percent of the globe's cobalt reserves.

Relief workers say the war killed 3.3 million people.

By late afternoon, the officer behind Friday's attempted coup was on the run south of the capital with 21 of his men, pursued by loyalist troops backed by helicopter, presidential spokesman Kadura Kasonga said.

The officer, Major Eric Lenge, had been a trusted aide frequently photographed behind Kabila at official functions, including Kabila's 2001 inauguration -- which followed the assassination of Kabila's father by his own presidential bodyguards.

Lenge launched the coup attempt by commandeering state broadcast centers after midnight. He announced he was "neutralizing" the transition government.

Condemning Kabila's government as ineffective, Lenge appealed to members of Congo's armed forces to stay in their barracks and accede to the takeover.

Loyalist forces routed Lenge and his fighters from the broadcast headquarters, sending the mutin-eers retreating to a presidential guard base in the capital.

Information Minister Vitale Kamerhe then appeared on state airwaves before dawn to declare "the situation entirely under control," without a shot fired.

Some of Lenge's forces later appeared in the heart of the capital, on foot and in two tanks and an armored personnel carrier crowded with troops, diplomats said -- allegedly trying unsuccessfully to surrender to either the US or British embassies or Congo's UN mission.

Congo government and military leaders described Lenge and his followers breaking out of the base and fleeing, first to Kinshasa's international airport and then to the south of the city, toward the Bas Congo region.

Security forces had arrested 12 of the fleeing men, Kabila said on state TV.

It was unclear how many troops took part in the failed coup. Accounts by officials ranged from 20 to the low hundreds.

Diplomats said the dissident forces expressed grievances about pay, in partial or full arrears by the government for months.

The coup attempt was the second military uprising against the postwar government after a previous five years of peace in the capital.

In March, hundreds of troops attacked military installations in a capital uprising also linked by some accounts to grievances over pay.

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