Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Congo replaces army chief after defeats by rebels
Tue 18 Nov 2008, 9:27 GMT

[-] Text [+] KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese President Joseph Kabila has replaced the head of his armed forces, a move aimed at bolstering their fighting capacity after a string of defeats during weeks of battles against eastern rebels, officials said.

General Dieudonne Kayembe was replaced as military chief of staff by General Didier Etumba, who was previously head of the navy and has also served as head of military intelligence, state television announced late on Monday.

Kabila's army has been repeatedly routed in east Democratic Republic of Congo by Tutsi rebel fighters led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda. The violence in North Kivu province has displaced 250,000 people since the end of August, causing a humanitarian emergency and threatening a wider war.

Human rights groups have accused the rebels of committing war crimes and say retreating, ill-disciplined government soldiers have also looted, killed and raped.

"Kayembe has been removed. I guess the president wants to change the dynamics after the losses," said a presidency source.

Congolese and international officials have repeatedly accused Congo's military hierarchy of embezzling money meant for poorly-paid and ill-equipped soldiers who are sent to the front.

Etumba was involved in the negotiations that ended Congo's 1998-2003 war, which sucked in six neighbouring countries and killed 5 million people through violence, hunger and disease. He has also been involved in talks with Nkunda's rebels and is a respected commander, a United Nations official said.

Nkunda's rebels in North Kivu forced back army troops and advanced north on Monday despite their leader's pledge to back a ceasefire and peace talks after a weekend meeting with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a U.N. special envoy.

© Reuters 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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