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Funeral for general who defied Mobutu disrupted

June 12, 1997

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Opponents of Congo’s new president stormed a church Thursday during a funeral service for an army chief who was killed for defying former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Hauling the bloody body of a man they claimed had just been shot by government troops, about 100 students denounced President Laurent Kabila as an assassin, then swept through the church stealing the funeral wreaths before fleeing.

Soldiers stood guard around a coffin containing the corpse of Gen. Marc Mahele Lieko Bokungu, whose body was not touched during the melee.

Mahele was the last army chief under Mobutu, whose 31-year dictatorship ended in humiliation when Kabila’s rebel army marched into Kinshasa on May 17. Mobutu had fled the capital the previous day after being warned by Mahele that his army would not defend him.

Shortly before the rebel takeover, one of Mobutu’s loyal soldiers accused Mahele of being a traitor and shot him to death in the presidential palace.

The general’s secret attempts to arrange Kabila’s peaceful takeover of Kinshasa won him support from the diplomatic community and prompted Kabila’s government to accord him a lavish funeral.

His body lay in state Wednesday in the Church of Notre Dame and was to have been taken Thursday to a cemetery for burial after a church service. Kinshasa’s archbishop, Cardinal Frederic Etsou, was delivering the service before hundreds of people when the students burst in.

``Kabila is an assassin!″ they chanted, running through the church and stealing flowers meant for Mahele as they carried the half-naked, bloody body of a young man. Protesters claimed the young man had been shot to death by soldiers guarding Mahele’s grave site and identified him as Masamgu Nsangu, a university student.

Bokoli Engende, one of the protesters, said he, Nsangu and the others had wanted to attend the church service. Finding it too crowded, they went to the cemetery to await the burial. While there, he said, a truckload of soldiers confronted them, and one opened fire without provocation, hitting Nsangu in the head.

There was no independent confirmation of their account.

Since taking power, Kabila has encountered resistance from supporters of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who was passed over when Kabila formed his government. It was unclear if the protesters Thursday were Tshisekedi backers.

After the melee, the students fled the church, and the service resumed.

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