President Laurent Kabila has fled Congo's embattled capital, a government official said Friday, raising fears the 14-month-old government may not survive a rebel advance on Kinshasa. But another official said he returned later in the day.
The former rebel leader, who ousted longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997, was being driven from power with lightning speed by the same forces that helped him get there - the Rwandan leaders and Tutsi rebels in the eastern part of the country.They are backed by a broad coalition of people disenchanted with Kabila, who they say has failed to make progress toward rebuilding a country wrecked by three decades of the corrupt Mobutu reign.
"The president is not in Kinshasa," the senior government adviser said on condition of anonymity. "I can't tell you any more than that."
But later, another top Congolese official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kabila had returned to the capital and was "working like normal."
A Western diplomat in Paris, who refused to be further identified, said Kabila was in the southern city of Lubumbashi, his former rebel base, but had no information on his plans.
With rebel forces advancing on Kinshasa from the west, the jittery Congolese capital awoke Friday without electricity, radio, television or newspapers. Power was restored to some parts of the city in the early afternoon, and state radio began broadcasting with a weakened signal.
"We call on the people to remain calm, the president of the republic and the government are doing everything to reverse this situation," the radio said in a statement, referring to the power outage.
The radio resumed its barrage of accusations against neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, which Kabila accuses of waging a war against Congo.
The city was bracing for the expected arrival of the fighters who launched a rebellion against Kabila earlier this month.