A rebel spokesman in eastern Congo said on Friday that his movement intended to march across the country to the capital Kinshasa to depose President Joseph Kabila, who refused to quit power at the end of his mandate last year.
Led by self-proclaimed ‘general’ William Yakutumba, the rebel force, calling itself the National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo (CNPSC), has emerged as one of the strongest groups in Democratic Republic of Congo’s lawless eastern borderlands since its formation in June.
Analysts doubt that the CNPSC has the capacity to make a move on the capital.
However it briefly captured some strategic towns in June and advanced this week to within a few kilometers of the city of Uvira along Lake Tanganyika, forcing U.N. helicopters to intervene to help Congolese troops drive them back.
Congo has been beset by a wave of prison breaks, rebellions and lawlessness since Kabila’s refusal to step down in December.
“We are even going to reach Kinshasa,” Dalton Waubwela Mwila, secretary-general of the CNPSC, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “Our ultimate objective is to be in Kinshasa.”
Kabila’s father, Laurent, came to power in 1997 on the back of a rebellion that started in eastern Congo, marching the more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to the capital, but he crucially received backing from the armies of neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
“FLASH IN THE PAN”
Waubwela said that the CNPSC includes a number of armed groups in eastern Congo, including in its home province of South Kivu and the neighbouring provinces of North Kivu, Tanganyika and Maniema, where heavy fighting was also reported this week.
Yakutumba formed a militia bearing his name in 2007 and established himself as a warlord, gold smuggler and arms trafficker in South Kivu’s Fizi territory, but looks to be trying to raise an insurrection with nationwide support.
Regional wars in eastern Congo, which holds vast reserves of gold, tin, coltan and other minerals, between 1996-2003 killed millions and spawned dozens of armed groups that continue to exploit natural resources and prey on local populations.
Waubwela claimed that the coalition includes more than 10,000 men, but analysts estimate the size of the militia at closer to 300-450, and say it would require significant foreign backing or fresh alliances to be able to occupy much territory, let alone threaten Kabila in Kinshasa.
Waubwela said the rebels have armed themselves with weapons captured from Congolese forces.
Speaking to reporters in the eastern city of Goma on Thursday, the army’s top general, Didier Etumba, dismissed the CNPSC as a “flash in the pan” that the army would “put out”.
But the rebellion is yet another security headache for Kabila, who is also trying to tame a brutal insurgency in central Congo’s Kasai region, which has killed up to 5,000 people and displaced 1.4 million more in the past year.