Update from the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Political Crisis
On March 22-23, 2007 the Congolese Armed Forces clashed on the streets of Kinshasa with the private guards of the former Vice President of the Republic (Jean Pierre Bemba) that left several people dead, including small children.
On March 22-23, 2007 the Congolese Armed Forces clashed on the streets of Kinshasa with the private guards of the former Vice President of the Republic (Jean Pierre Bemba) that left several people dead, including small children. The national army tried to disarm the Bemba forces according to decisions reached following the presidential elections last October, where it was agreed to have one national army. Tension was high in the capital for more than two weeks before the outburst of violence that has been described by one partner as “the war of two days”. Many people were forced to find secure places to stay for the two days as circulation stopped completely. The Africa Office has received reports from the partners and missionaries that everyone is safe and that calm has returned to the city.
This update includes excerpts from emails received describing the situation and partners’ reflections on the situation.
OPEN LETTER FROM PARTNERS IN KINSHASA
March 26, 2007
Brothers and Sisters,
Since Thursday, March 22nd, people in Kinshasa have witnessed a terrible situation where the soldiers assigned to guard Senator Jean Pierre Bemba, ex Vice President and Presidential contender against President Kabila during the recent elections, clashed with the national Congolese army.
Over two weeks ago, the Chief of Armed Forces wrote to Senator Bemba saying that he would have to limit the number of guards around him (he had over 100 soldiers). He was told that he could have only 6 policemen serving as bodyguards. Senator Bemba did not agree with this decision and justified his position to keep guards based on the agreement signed between him and President Kabila stipulating that the one who won the election would assure the security of the loser.
Several attempts to disarm Senator Bemba’s guards had already failed. On Thursday around 11 am, a group of soldiers came to relieve those on duty at the Supreme Court building (not far from Bemba’s residence) and, according to the government, one of Bemba’s soldiers fired on the government military guards at the Supreme Court killing one of the soldiers.
This was an impetus to forcefully disarm Bemba’s guards. The people of Kinshasa saw themselves as hostages as the firing of light and heavy weapons continued around them. The incident started in the center of town along Boulevard de 30 juin up to the Gombe cemetery.
On Friday evening, Senator Bemba left his residence on Blvd de 30 juin to take refuge at the South African embassy. The exchange of fire continued throughout the night.
The situation is now calm in the city but the preliminary death toll has been placed at 60 according to government sources. Other sources put the number of dead in the hundreds.
Once again, calm has returned to Kinshasa and the Disciples community has not yet reported any deaths among its members.
FROM OUR MISSIONARY – ART MEHAFFEY
We are all safe here in MaCampagne. There have been shootings yesterday and we could hear some during the early morning this morning. It has mostly been confined to the downtown (Gombe) area. TASOK closed for today although it was open yesterday. There were 17 students that spent the night at TASOK because there was no safe way for them to get to their homes in the Gombe area. I hear that there have been several people killed and some stores have been looted downtown.
VIEW OF THE SITUATION FROM THE EYES OF A YOUNG CHRISTIAN
The conflict in Kinshasa opposes JP Bemba and J Kabila, our country’s President. In fact, before the beginning of the second round of presidential elections the international community had succeeded in getting the two candidates around the same table. That meeting produced an agreement by which the winner of the elections must guarantee the security of the loser, and that the loser would keep some guard units close. But this agreement was understood differently by the two camps. The head of state gave a loophole by giving a deadline up to March 15 for the two vice presidents, Bemba and Ruberwa, to release their military guards for national service. This matter didn’t have time to be taken care of politically for the deadline passed and the use of force for disarmament was unleashed to the point that innocent people died.
According to information in our possession and which must be verified, the situation is under control by the armed elements of the government who have succeeded in pushing the elements of JP Bemba far from the city. The latter is in the embassy of South Africa in Kinshasa since the beginning of these unfortunate events.
The serious reading of these events shows simply the inability of our leaders to place the national interest above their own interests. The use of force by one or the other is a hidden expression of the inability to find a solution to the true present problem.
If I had the ability to speak to the leaders, I would put the following questions to:
1. Jean Pierre Bemba
- Why not accept the offer to replace your guard with 12 policemen including the UN forces as agreed to show your good faith towards the other party?
- Can’t you obey the one whom God has now placed, and wait 5 years to become a candidate for President of the Republic? Do you know that God is slow to anger and that one day God will avenge his people?
- If you feel victimized, why hasn’t the same thing happened to Ruberwa, the other candidate?
2. Joseph Kabila :
- You have already been invested with power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a mandate of 5 years. To accomplish your campaign promises, will the physical wiping out of your former opponents give you the awaited financial means to build roads, schools, hospitals, and invest in the economy so as to give meaningful life to the Congolese?
- Angolans occupy part of the Province of Bandundu (Kahemba); the Buroro occupy the country north of Kisangani; Laurent Nkunda, Pieter Karim, and the mai mai rule as absolute masters in the east where women are systematically violated and the ground exploited without law. Why not use all this force in those locations rather than sending them to crush Bemba in Kinshasa?
- Are you not affected by the millions of death that occurred from 1996 to 2003 and continue up to today?
- Do you think that your entourage is Christian, or at least fears God who is in heaven and who is our Creator? Do you know that there is a beginning and an end for everything?
It is very frustrating for many Congolese to understand why power blinds the leaders to the point of forgetting the essential. And, it is very difficult for one to speak out without finding oneself locked away in jail. We know that the present events in Kinshasa are secondary to other events and that they will pass soon.
Continue to keep us in your prayers.
THE WAR THAT LASTED TWO DAYS
The two-day war in Kinshasa caused enormous damage in the city. Some children of less than eight years of age were killed by stray bullets. My father is in a very difficult situation because he has not been visited by his doctors for 3 days because of the war and his bandages have not been changed as hospital personnel have deserted the hospital. There has been no food since the public markets are closed. There are many decomposing bodies at the hospital where my father is staying. They are victims of the war between the government military and the personal guards of Jean Pierre Bemba. At the moment, it seems as if clam has returned to the country but the results are really disastrous. We were not able to get to an internet café to inform people. Please pray for my father and others.