- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2001

KINSHASA, Congo President Laurent Kabila, the longtime rebel who assumed power over this vast, troubled Central African nation in May 1997, died yesterday after being shot at his Kinshasa residence, his U.S. spokesman said.
The shooting occurred during an attempted coup to topple Mr. Kabila's government, which has been battling a number of rebel movements for more than two years, officials in Kinshasa said.
"He's died," said John Aycoth, a lobbyist and public relations consultant who acts as Mr. Kabila's spokesman in the United States.
Mr. Aycoth, speaking by telephone from Durham, N.C., said he had spoken to top level Congolese officials in Kinshasa, who had confirmed Mr. Kabila's death. He said the Congolese government would make an announcement today on what had happened.
French and Belgian foreign ministry officials quoted local sources as saying they believed he died of his injuries.
"From three sources I have that Kabila has most likely been shot to death," Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Louis Michel said in Brussels following a crisis meeting with the Cabinet.
Earlier, his spokesman, Koen Vervaeke, said, "From two sources of whom we are 100 percent certain, we can confirm that Kabila has died. He has probably been shot by one of his guards."
Belgium is Congo's former colonial ruler and retains close ties with the nation, formerly named Zaire.
French Foreign Ministry officials also said Mr. Kabila was dead, but gave no further details. France also maintains close economic and diplomatic ties with Congo.
Asked about the report, Congolese Interior Minister Gaetan Kakudji said: "The Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs can say what he wants, but I will make my announcement tomorrow."
A member of Mr. Kabila's security entourage said earlier on the condition of anonymity that a bodyguard had shot the president in the back and in the right leg during a coup attempt. Mr. Kabila was alive and was being treated by doctors, he said without elaborating.
Intelligence officers in Rwanda also said they had unconfirmed reports that Mr. Kabila was killed in the intense shooting yesterday afternoon at the presidential palace, which lasted a half-hour.
[In an earlier report, a senior intelligence source in Kampala, Uganda, told Reuters news agency the president had been killed in a coup attempt in the capital, Kinshasa.
["He has died. He was shot by unknown people … earlier today … I am 101 percent sure he is dead," the senior intelligence source in Kampala said by telephone.]
[In a telephone interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Aycoth noted that the early accounts came from the two main African countries that that have supported rebels against Mr. Kabila since August 2, 1998.
[I'll leave it at that for now," he said.]
The Congolese government would not elaborate publicly on its president's condition, or even whether he'd been shot.
"President Kabila is alive, and everything is OK," said Congolese Gen. Francois Olenga.
The early, conflicting reports came hours after witnesses described gunfire around the home of Mr. Kabila. It was not clear who was responsible for the shooting.
A presidential helicopter landed at Kinshasa's main hospital, a government official who witnessed the event said, adding that there were unconfirmed reports that the aircraft was carrying Mr. Kabila's son, Joseph Kabila, who had apparently been injured. The younger Kabila is the head of Congo's military.
Presidential aide Eddy Kapend went on national television shortly after the gunfire ended to appeal for calm, but he made no mention of the incident.
The bleary-eyed aide ordered all airports and borders closed, appealing to the armed forces and civil society leaders to help maintain order.
"The Congolese people need your serenity and your discipline," he said.
Later, an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was announced by Mr. Kakudji, the interior minister, who said it had been ordered by Mr. Kabila himself.
Mr. Kakudji also put all fighting units in Kinshasa on alert until further notice.
Amid the confusion of the shooting, Kinshasa residents hurried home and many streets were quickly deserted. Truckloads of armed soldiers patrolled the streets in Congo's capital city.
Large numbers of troops in armored vehicles and on foot blocked off roads near Mr. Kabila's hilltop residence, not far from downtown Kinshasa. The presidential residence, known as the Marble Palace, is usually heavily guarded by troops and a North Korean-made tank.
Mr. Kabila has been fighting a civil war since August 1998, when rebel forces backed by his former allies, Rwanda and Uganda, turned against him. In the war's early stages, the rebels reached the outskirts of Kinshasa before being turned back by Mr. Kabila's army, with the support of Angola, later joined by Zimbabwe and Namibia.
Speaking from Brussels, Kin-Kiey Mulumba, a spokesman for one of the main rebel movements, emphasized that Mr. Kabila was dead.
"It was a palace coup. Soldiers from Kabila's escort fired at him. He took bullets directly. Immediately, the doctors took him to the main hospital, but he died."
Mr. Mulumba said the shooting proved that the Congolese people wanted a change, but denied that rebels had anything to do with it.
"Something big happened in our country this afternoon. People want change," he said.
Mr. Kabila came to power in May 1997 following a Uganda- and Rwanda-sponsored rebellion against former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the nation then called Zaire.
The rebellion was sponsored by the eastern African neighbors of Congo on grounds that it had become a sanctuary of rebellions against them.
The world community initially welcomed Mr. Kabila, who many hoped would be a vast improvement over Mobutu's decades-long rule, which left his nation desperately broke and with an infrastructure that barely functioned.
But the new Congolese leader quickly alienated the Kinshasa elite by relying on Tutsis from the east to assume key positions in his government.
He also angered investors by canceling promised deals and the United Nations by an investigation of reports that his rebel army had slaughtered thousands of Hutu refugees.
Staff writer Gus Constantine in Washington contributed to this report.


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