Zimbabwe-DRC: Allied forces to confront rebels in east

Report
from IRIN
Published on 21 Oct 1998
JOHANNESBURG, 21 October 1998 (IRIN) - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has warned of an escalation of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), while South African leader Nelson Mandela launches a series of high-level regional meetings to broker a diplomatic settlement.
After a mini-summit in Harare today of SADC countries backing the Kinshasa government, Mugabe said the allies had agreed to take the war to the rebels' eastern strongholds.

"We are going east. What this means in military terms is that we are going to defend the Congo from the rebels," Mugabe told a news conference at the end of talks attended by the heads of state of Angola and Namibia.

The deepened commitment to the defence of beleaguered DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila raises the prospect of alliance forces clashing with Rwandan and Ugandan army units, widely believed to be supporting the rebels.

"It's full of frightening implications," a defence analyst in Harare told IRIN. "This could be Mugabe's Waterloo."

Rwandan Vice President and Minister of Defence Paul Kagame "is Africa's best military brain, he's never lost a battle, and I don't know if Zimbabwe's generals are a match for him," he said.

He added that with Angola more concerned with UNITA insurgency, and Namibia's contribution to the allied cause currently limited, the burden of the campaign would fall on Zimbabwe - where the rationale for the war is increasingly questioned.

"The ace Zimbabwe has is airpower, but November is the height of the rainy season," the defence specialist said. "If I were in command I would postpone it for a few months."

Mandela has, meanwhile, scheduled a series of meetings with regional leaders.

According to press reports he met Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni on Monday and plans to hold talks with Kagame, the DRC rebels, and Namibian President Sam Nujoma.

"Mandela is trying to find a diplomatic solution but on the ground we are working towards a military solution," a Namibian defence official told IRIN. "Both approaches must go hand in hand. You can't say 'lets talk' while others [the rebels] are fighting."

[END]

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