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History, Rebellion

AFDL, Banyamulenge, Lake Kivu, Kisangani, streaming home

In September 1996, near the refugee camps along the border with Rwanda and Burundi, a small minority of Zairian Tutsi known as the Banyamulenge became targets of harassment by local non-Tutsi and Zairian troops. Recent legislation had established new criteria for Zairian citizenship, and locals decided to expel the Banyamulenge, who had lived in the area for about 200 years. The Banyamulenge, armed and trained by the Tutsi Rwandan government in preparation for such an attack, retaliated and, reinforced by Rwandan Tutsi, successfully fought off the Zairian army in October. Tension between Zaire and Rwanda led to brief cross-border mortar fire around Lake Kivu. By late October the resistance had been organized into the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL), led by longtime Lumumbist and veteran anti-Mobutu guerrilla fighter, Laurent-Desire Kabila. Backed by five neighboring countries, the uprising swiftly grew into an anti-Mobutu rebellion. The governments of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, and Zambia had long been hostile to Mobutu because of the Zairian leaderís support for various rebel groups in neighboring countries. Rwandan and Ugandan leaders also had close personal ties with Kabila. Meanwhile, Western governments failed to come to Mobutuís aid because of his reputation as a corrupt, ineffective dictator. The AFDL began capturing border towns, easily defeating disorganized Zairian forces. Undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, Mobutu avoided the rebellion by staying at his villa in France.

While continuing to fight the Zairian army, the AFDL, probably at the bidding of Rwanda, also began in November to attack Hutu refugee camps. As each camp was attacked, its population fled to another, creating a number of gigantic, unmanageable refugee camps. The refugee population at Mugunga camp, northwest of Lake Kivu, grew to more than 500,000. A U.S. military task force was drawn up to intervene and coordinate the repatriation of refugees. Just before it was to be deployed in mid-November 1996, the AFDL routed Hutu militias in several camps, forcing them west. The imperiled refugee population in eastern Zaire split, with about 800,000 streaming home to Rwanda and several hundred thousand moving west, deeper into the jungles.

The AFDL captured more of eastern Zaire in the next months. The Zairian army was consistently routed, as its underpaid and inexperienced soldiers frequently surrendered or fled instead of fighting. Meanwhile, the AFDL, with its stated intention of overthrowing Mobutu, drew volunteers from every region it captured. Despite employing foreign mercenaries, the Zairian army lost strategically located Kisangani to the rebels in March 1997. Lubumbashi, Zaireís second largest city, fell in April. Under pressure from UDPS protests in Kinshasa and Kabilaís rapid advance, Mobutu approved Tshisekediís reappointment as prime minister in April. A week later he replaced Tshisekedi with his hard-line army chief of staff, General Likulia Bolongo.

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Article key phrases:

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