Friday, June 11, 2004

DRC: coup attempt in Kinshasa

President Joseph Kabila appeared on state television to assert that he is still in control after an attempted coup by members of his own presidential guards.

Kabila said a dozen insurgents had been arrested ... diplomats and UN officials estimated there were about 200 insurgents involved.

At about 2:30AM local time (1:30 GMT), some insurgents took over state radio and television to announce that the army was in control. (The TV statment went largely unheard because it's normally off air at that time and nobody was watching.) At some point, the insurgents are also thought to have taken control of the national electricity station, cutting power to the capital for three hours.

According to reports, coup leader Major Eric Lenge, with about 20 supporters, took over the radio station and announced that the country's transitional process was not working and that he was suspending it and taking control himself. He also urged the army not to resist if they wanted to avoid "turning the city or the entire country into a battlefield" and said his "people are all over the country".

According to AFP, Lenge is believed to have been a close associate of the president's and that he played a leading role in putting down last week's protests against the UN mission in Kinshasa.

By about mid Friday morning, Reuters was reporting that security forces had Lenge and a few of his supporters surrounded at Kinshasa's Ndjili airport. (IRIN is reporting that the "coup leader" has already been arrested.) Foreign Minister Antoine Ghonda also said some of the insurgents had attempted to surrender to European embassies and others were fleeing to a region south of the capital.

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This is the second coup attempt in almost as many months. According to reports, the March 28 coup attempt was launched by soldiers from the Zairean Armed Forces (FAZ) of late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.