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Congo Rebel Seeks End to Corruption

November 6, 2000

GOMA, Congo (AP) _ When Adolphe Onusumba joined the Congolese rebels in their two-year war against President Laurent Kabila, he was a doctor with no political experience.

At first, his peers dismissed him as a self-righteous, youthful outsider. But one year later, the 35-year-old put on a military uniform, challenged the old ways of running the rebellion and won the post of rebel president with promises to rid the Central African nation of corruption, poverty and bad leadership.

``I am a revolutionary. When I left my home in Congo, I told my family I want to be at the table where the future of my country is being discussed,″ the South African-trained doctor said.

Onusumba was elected leader following a stormy Oct. 29 shake-up of the Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy. He has pledged to convince the skeptical Congolese that his party is a good alternative to Kabila’s autocratic regime.

To the war-weary Congolese, struggling to survive in a troubled economy, promises of a better future are nothing new.

In Congo _ one fourth the size of the United States _ armies and rebels from six nations are scattered across the biggest battleground in Africa’s postcolonial history. Onusumba heads the largest rebel group. But rebel leaders come and go with little effect on life outside their villas on the shores of Lake Kivu in Goma, the eastern rebel stronghold from where they occasionally make declarations and promises that rarely materialize in the vast area under their control.

Unlike his two predecessors, Onusumba offers revolutionary zeal and uncompromising policy in dealing with corrupt politicians.

``I will start with demanding that those who stole public funds pay back,″ Onusumba said. ``I will reward those who do their job properly, and punish the others who do wrong to set an example.″

Congo’s second war in two years began in August 1998, when Rwanda sent troops and arms to support the rebels fighting to replace Kabila.

The rebels started off as a broad-based coalition of disenchanted opposition figures, former ministers under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko _ who was ousted by Kabila _ and soldiers who complained of tribalism and mismanagement in the army.

Soon, wrangling for positions led to the divisions, and the rebels split into at least three groups. Rwanda supports the Congolese Rally for Democracy and two rival groups are backed by Uganda.

The war stalled when Kabila’s forces were aided by tanks, fighter jets and troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. Despite a peace accord signed in July 1999, skirmishes continue and Kabila has refused to authorize the deployment of 5,537-member U.N. mission to oversee the fragile cease-fire and withdrawal of foreign troops.

The rebels say their biggest challenge is to convince the 50 million Congolese that they are a better alternative to Kabila.

In the eastern half of the country, which is under rebel control, rough, neglected roads have not been repaired since the former Zaire’s 1962 independence from Belgium. Civil servants have not been paid in years, and jobs are scarce.

``Nothing has changed,″ said Victor Ngezayo, a Goma businessman. ``And we want change, but the same people who sat in Mobutu’s government sat in Kabila’s government, and some of them are now calling themselves rebels.″

Onusumba is not one of those people. He claims to be above the corruption that has robbed the country of its potential riches.

After his first week in office, Onusumba said he felt the burden and satisfaction of the new job.

``I am afraid for tomorrow. But if I die tomorrow, at least I can say I tried to fulfill my dream _ to help my country.″

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