Rebels honour slain DRC commander

2000-12-17 08:53

Nairobi, Kenya - Rebels in eastern Congo declared Saturday a day of mourning in honour of Anselme Masasu Nindaga, a veteran commander and one of four founding members of the guerrilla army that brought President Laurent Kabila to power, a radio report said.

The Congolese human rights groups AZADHO said on Friday that Masasu had been executed by the government in the southeastern town of Pweto after he was transferred from a prison in nearby Lubumbashi on November 20. He was arrested on November 1 in the capital, Kinshasa.

But in Kinshasa, Kabila's government denied that Masasu had been executed. During a press conference, armed forces Chief of Staff Sylvestre Luetcha said the AZADHO statement was "full of lies", while acknowledging that "some officers from the Congolese Armed Forces have been arrested for disrupting the public order".

Gen. Francois Olenga, who was also at the press conference, said Masasu was under arrest for plotting against the state, and would be judged by a military court.

But he refused to show Masasu to the press, saying: "Those who have violated state security are not to be exhibited."

The rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy, which took up arms against Kabila in August 1998, honored Masasu in the Lake Tanganyika port of Uvira, rebel-controlled Radio Uvira said.

In 1994 in Uvira, Masasu founded the Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Zaire, one of four groups that later joined to form the ADLF, Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, that brought Kabila to power in May 1997 following an eight-month rebellion that toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Masasu, who was not a professional soldier, rallied child fighters or "kadogos" from his Bashi tribe in southern Kivu province to fight Mobutu. Kabila, who had fought an earlier anti-Mobutu rebellion from 1964-67, joined with Masasu and two others in launching the September 1996 rebellion against Mobutu with the backing of neighbouring Rwanda.

Masasu's mother was a Congolese Tutsi, the group that formed the core of Kabila's rebel army.

Upon seizing Kinshasa in May 1997, Masasu, by then a major in the rebel army, was appointed Kabila's army chief of staff until he was arrested in November 1997 on charges of setting up a private militia while conducting a campaign to integrate child-soldiers into the new Congolese army.

His arrest followed a reported attempted coup within the army command in Kinshasa, leading to a shootout between rival soldiers that left 18 dead.

He was replaced by Rwandan Lt. Col. James Kabarebe, who a year later launched Congo's second rebellion, this time to topple Kabila, who was accused by Rwanda of harboring Rwandan Hutu militiamen who took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

In May 1998 a court martial convicted Masasu on charges of endangering state security, treason and forming a private militia, without right of appeal. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was later released.

Of the original rebel quartet, only Kabila and Masasu remained in Congo. Kisase Ngandu, the movement's first chief of staff, was found dead shortly after the 1996 rebellion started. Deogratias Bugera, disenchanted with the Kabila regime after Mobutu's overthrow, joined anti-Kabila rebels in 1998 but recently left for South Africa to seek medical treatment.