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Country Reports
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, Landmine Monitor Report 1999



The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) has been the subject of increasing allegations of landmine use since the uprising of anti-Mobutists and eastern Zairian Banyamulenge which triggered the successful offensive of Laurent Kabila’s Alliance des forces Démocratiques pour la Libération (AFDL) in late 1996.

The flight of Mobutu and Kabila’s accession to power, in April 1997, marked the end of nearly three decades of kleptocratic rule, which saw former Zaire virtually cease to exist as a meaningful national entity. Kabila had been closely backed by the Ugandan and Rwandan governments, who saw in him a solution to the threat to their borders posed by the exiled Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe forces responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994. It was Kabila’s failure to live up to hopes of Kigali, Kampala and many of his own AFDL colleagues that led to a fresh rebellion against him in July-August 1998, under the political leadership of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) and with equally visible Rwandan and Ugandan involvement.

This has led to what is now referred to as Africa’s “First World War.”[1] Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia deployed forces on Congolese territory in support of Kabila, as the RCD’s advance threatened to turn into a rout of governmental forces. It also emerged in the first weeks of the revolt that Uganda and Rwanda were closely aligned with the RCD’s military forces although both countries initially denied this. Virtually all these armies, both domestic and foreign, have been accused of laying mines. However, the situation is too chaotic at present for Landmine Monitor to make definitive assessments. Other countries to become directly or indirectly involved include Chad, Sudan and Libya, in a geopolitical convulsion whose final outcome is still far from certain.[2]

Mine Ban Policy

DRC has neither signed nor ratified the Mine Ban Treaty. This is generally thought to reflect the chaotic nature of political developments since Kabila arrived in power in May 1997. However, it may also reflect an unwillingness on the part of Kabila’s top military staff to abandon the option of using a cheap and destructive weapon.[3] The DRC did in November 1998 vote in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution welcoming the addition of new signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty, urging states to sign and ratify, calling for full implementation of the treaty, and inviting States Parties and observers to the First Meeting of States Parties in Mozambique in May 1999.

Production, Transfer and Stockpiling

DRC is not a known producer of antipersonnel mines. Information on the transfer of antipersonnel mines of landmines either to or from DRC is not available at this time and Landmine Monitor has no information on stockpiled landmines.


The current role of landmines in the conflict is unclear. The difficulties of researching and reporting events on the ground are compounded by often sophisticated techniques of disinformation, employed by all protagonists. However, landmines have undoubtedly become a feature of conflict in Zaire/DRC in recent years.

During the final battle for the control of Rwanda at the height of the 1994 genocide, Zairian planes were used to transport weapons including Zairian-origin landmines to the retreating Forces armées rwandaises. Zairian airspace was used for a variety of other weapons deliveries, of various origins.[4] On 24 October 1995, landmines were reported at Goma, Kivu Nord province, presumably laid as part of the continuing conflict between Rwandan forces and exiled Hutu extremists, who at the time were in control of refugee camps in the area.

By the end of 1995, the UN had begun classifying the then Zaire as a mine-affected country, after staff of the ICRC and the American Refugee Committee had been injured in separate mine-related incidents.[5] Other incidents included an APM detonation at a water point at Panzi camp in August 1995, which maimed five children.[6] The Panzi area was the scene of several AT mine incidents in early 1996, with Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe as the prime suspects. At about this time, the Forces Armées Zairiennes (FAZ), the armed forces of then head of state Mobutu Sese Seko, engaged in some clearance and defusing work.

Meanwhile, the UN launched an in-country security newsflash to inform workers of the growing menace.[7] In November 1996, Hutu extremists were suspected to have taken delivery of fifty APMs of Italian origin, in one of many violations of the international arms embargo in place at the time.[8] In early 1997, UN sources noted that there had been approximately forty reported mine incidents since 1995, and suggested that both extremist Rwandan Hutu in exile and Rwandan army units were using the weapons. Also in 1997, as Kabila’s forces advanced westwards, mercenaries hired by the Mobutu government made widespread use of landmines around the strategic airport of Kisangani. Reportedly no maps or charts were kept and when the mostly Serbian mercenaries[9] withdrew in disarray, the mines remained. It is not known what their continuing impact may be.

In October 1998, rebel commanders accused Kabila’s Forces Armées Congolaises of using AP mines in their unsuccessful defense of the key strategic outpost of Kindu in Kasaï Orientale province. The commanders displayed cases of AP mines to reporters and claimed that they were going to demine Kindu to prevent civilian casualties.[10] Around the same time, an EU official accused Angolan forces of laying mines in southern DRC, in order to isolate rearguard forces of UNITA, as the Angolan war again began to intensify (see Angola).[11] There have been unconfirmed claims that a hybrid unit of RCD and Rwandan army personnel is active and using landmines in the Cabemba region, adjoining Angolan territory around Mbanza Kongo.[12]

On 26 November 1998, the Namibian Ministry of Defense confirmed that two of its soldiers in DRC had been killed when a landmine detonated. The Ministry offered no forensic information as to who had laid the mine in question, but stated that Namibia and its allies “hold Rwanda and Uganda responsible for using antipersonnel landmines, weapons which the international community has banned.”[13] In December, it was reported that “invasion forces from Rwanda, Uganda and rebels fighting to topple President Laurent Kabila are laying minefields in and around Kabalo, Kalemle, Nyunau and Moba. The acting Minister of Defense, Cde. Sydney Sekeramayi?confirmed a number of Zimbabwean troops had fallen victim to landmines at the warfront in the DRC.”[14]

According to the “Information Minister” of the RCD, Lambert Menga, RCD forces took Kabinda on 18 March 1999. Menga alleges that the last few miles into Kabinda itself gave RCD forces much difficulty due to seriously mined terrain.[15] According to Menga, the RCD has adopted the expedient of flying in cows from Goma and driving them in front of advancing forces as a mine-clearance device. However, he stresses that this offers protection only to RCD soldiers and that there are growing civilian casualties in the Kabinda region. According to his information, Mbuji-Mayi and environs have also been heavily mined, in particular, there are mines all around the airport. Menga could not confirm the origin of the alleged mines, or whether Congolese government or Zimbabwean forces were responsible for laying them. Although he did not mention the Mine Ban Treaty (to which the DRC is not a signatory), Menga argued that the international community should tell Kabila to stop the use of landmines.[16]

Contacted by Human Rights Watch, the Defense Advisor at the Zimbabwean High Commission in London, Lieutenant-Colonel Ezekiel Zabanyana said, “We do not use landmines in the DRC. This is improper. We are signatories to the Convention and we abide by our commitment to this Convention. This is emphatic.” When asked whether this meant that Zimbabwe refrained from the use of all mines, at home and abroad, the Lieutenant-Colonel replied, “No. That is correct.”[17] Zimbabwe signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty on 3 December 1997 and ratified this on 18 June 1998. The Mine Ban Treaty has now been incorporated into Zimbabwe’s domestic law (see report on Zimbabwe).

Representatives of Handicap International have mixed views on the landmine question in DRC. The organization has not detected AP or AT mines at Mbuji-Mayi, despite the RCD’s accusations. However, HI representatives have met landmine victims on medical premises in Kinshasa. They were told that the victims “had come from the front,” although which front was not specified.[18]

Internationally, suspicions are growing that Zimbabwean or Congolese forces are indeed resorting to the use of landmines. A U.S. State Department analyst told HRW, “When you’ve got a war to fight, you’ll do whatever: I’d certainly use them in [Kabila’s] position.”[19]

Mine Awareness

The UK-based Mines Advisory Group initiated a mine awareness program in mid-1996, which concentrated upon displaced Angolans in camps along border of the two countries. However, with renewed heavy fighting between the Angolan government and UNITA, the program was ended in mid-1998.[20]


[1]Michaela Wrong, “Neighboring states take sides in Congo conflict”, Financial Times, (London), 19 August 1998; James Walker “Congo on the edge as Kabila falters,” Independent, (London), 16 August 1998.

[2]“Africa scrambles for Africa,” Africa Confidential (London), vol. 40, no. I, 8 January 1999, pp.1-6.

[3] Interview, French defense specialist, Centre d’analyse et de prévision, Paris, 29 March 1999.

[4] Human Rights Watch, Rwanda/Zaire. Rearming with Impunity. International Support for the Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide, Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no. 4, May 1995, p.11

[5]UN Country Database, DR Congo report, http://www.un.org/Depts/Landmine/ country/congodem.htm

[6]ICRC website, www.icrc.org, search request, “zaire.”


[8]Reuters, at ICRC website.

[9]“Paid fighters – and Their Paymasters,” Africa Confidential, vol. 38, no. xiii, 20 June 1997.

[10]“Congo accused of laying anti-personnel mines,” ChannelAfrica (South Africa) radio report, 14 October 1998.

[11]“Mines Return to Angola,” Expresso (Lisbon: internet version), 2 October 1998.

[12]Telephone interview with unnamed military source, 30 March 1999.

[13]Namibia, Ministry of Defense, Media release, “NDF members wounded in the DRC,” 26 November 1998.

[14]Herald, Harare, 21 December 1998.

[15]Telephone interview, Brussels, 19 March 1999.


[17]Telephone interview, London, 19 March, 1999.

[18]Email communication to Human Rights Watch from Handicap International representatives, Democratic Republic of Congo, 26 March 1999.

[19]Interview with unnamed U.S. State Department official, 24 March 1999.

[20]Telephone interviews, Tim Carstairs and Helen Keary, Mines Advisory Group, UK, 30 March 1999.