February 27, 2011 10:45 pm

DR Congo coup attempt, six killed

Six men have been killed following an attack on the presidential residence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, say Congolese authorities.

Shooting broke out in the capital Kinshasa on Sunday afternoon as attackers armed with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and machetes launched what appeared to be a coup attempt targeting the home of President Joseph Kabila, who was in his residence at the time.

Information minister Lambert Mende told the Financial Times six unidentified assailants were killed and more arrested, adding state forces had “probably” taken injuries too. He said the police and army had deployed throughout the capital and that the attorney general was now investigating “the terrible act”.

Witnesses told the Financial Times they heard shots first around the Grand Hotel, the ritziest hotel in the country, and outside the president’s residence.

“I heard it, really strong shooting, there was firing for more than 30 minutes’ shooting, like an hour ago,” an eyewitness told the FT.

UN staff told the FT they saw the president’s personal guards, known as the Republican Guard, deployed “everywhere” and heard at least one rocket-propelled grenade fired alongside small arms fire. Others spoke of a second team of attackers brandishing machetes that crossed two manned road blocks and entered Kabila’s compound, attacking his guards.

Several sources including a western diplomat said they had heard the President left his residence, possibly in the direction of the airport. Mr Mende said the President was still in his residence, however.

Others said a tank had been deployed on the streets of Kinshasa, while diplomats sent out chains of text messages warning their citizens to stay indoors.

Joseph Kabila’s father Laurent Desiré Kaibila, also president, was assassinated in a failed 2001 coup attempt in his residence in Kinshasa in the west of the country, traditionally an opposition stronghold.

Conflict continues throughout Congo’s east following a 1998-2003 war that drew in more than six neighbours. Rebels attacked an airport in the northwest last year, killing a United Nations peacekeeper.

Investors worldwide have poured billions of dollars into the country’s rich copper and cobalt deposits, while gold and coltan smuggling sustains rebel militia and criminal networks within the army in the east, and international oil prospectors are seeking discoveries along the Ugandan border. The US considers a cobalt mine in Congo vital to its interests, according to Wikileaks cables.

Mineral-rich Congo faces tense elections in November, likely to pit Mr Kabila against an array of opposition candidates with strong support in various parts of the vast country. After elections in 2006, rival troops fought in the streets of Kinshasa, killing hundreds. Mr Kabila’s government this year passed a motion to reduce polling to a single round, improving the chances of his victory in the poor country.

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