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New Rulers of Eastern Zaire Create Order out of Chaos


Jean Vasco doesn't ordinarily use the telephone much, but if he wants to make a call, the resident of this city in Zaire has to cross the border into Rwanda.

The new rebel occupiers of eastern Zaire seem obsessed with control. They have no immediate plans to revive the cellular telephone system - the only means of communication because phone lines do not work. Their radio station reports only rebel successes in the 3-1/2-month-old war with Zaire.

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Foreigners must hand in their passports when crossing into rebel territory, and their stay is limited to a few days. Travelers are often stopped by roadblocks just outside the town. And the airport remains closed.

Mr. Vasco had grown accustomed to the anarchy of the previous regime, when anything was possible as long as one had money, and unpaid soldiers ran wild in the streets. He is puzzled by the stringent restrictions imposed by the new rulers.

But Goma's new governor, Leonard Kanymuhanga Gafundi, explains that such tight security is needed while war is being waged. "There is a threat of spying," he says. "We cannot take chances."

Three months after the remarkable capture of a large chunk of territory in sub-Saharan Africa's largest country, the rebel Alliance of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire is finding its administrative feet.

The rebel group, led by veteran guerrilla Laurent-Desir Kabila, has no clear ideology, despite its Stalinist-like passion for control. But the rebels - who rose up in October, they claim, to protect the rights of Zaire's Tutsi minority - are clear about their aim to overthrow the dictatorial 31-year-rule of Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko.

The rebels, with the apparent backing of neighboring Rwanda, have also done a favor for that country's Tutsi-led regime. They broke up the refugee camps that for 2-1/2 years served as a haven for Rwandan Hutu militias and are now trying to flush out any remaining pockets from the hills where Hutus continue to menace Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.

While the rebels have had dramatic success on the battlefield, their experiments with civil authority are more tentative. Goma's new occupiers are trying to instill a new order, but they do not have the money to pay for it.

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Fledgling government

How they govern eastern Zaire now may reveal how they might rule a new nation - if they succeed in forming one.

Slowly a bureaucracy is creaking into place. Schools have reopened, although teachers are still not paid, and many pupils lack books.

The open-air markets are operating again, brimming with onions, cassava, and chickens. But fuel and consumer goods are very expensive, and many residents do their shopping across the border in Rwanda. Power has been restored to much of the town, and with it sporadic running water. But many residents are still forced to resort to dips in the lake and bucket baths.

And the locals have a nervous relationship with the new rulers. It is a population grown weary by wave after wave of occupiers. First, there were the soldiers of Mr. Mobutu, who terrorized Goma. Unpaid and poorly disciplined, the troops resorted to sacking shops, demanding bribes, and even raping women in the town over the past few years.

Then for 2-1/2 years, Goma was overwhelmed by more than 1 million Hutu refugees who fled Rwanda in 1994 after Tutsi rebels took over the country. They converged on this town, refusing to go back in fear of reprisals for their suspected part in the murder of up to 1 million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by the then- Hutu rulers. The refugees did their own share of stealing from the locals. They were also resented for being better fed by foreign aid workers than the locals themselves.

Now Goma's latest rulers are viewed with weary suspicion and a tired hope that maybe this time life will finally get better.

On the one hand, Kabila's highly disciplined men and their passion for order are a welcome change. But they are also viewed as an occupying force that is far from loved. Contributing to the wariness is the conviction by French-speaking locals that Rwandan and Ugandan English-speakers make up the real army, despite denials by both countries.

"People here accept the rebels, but I'm not sure most people necessarily like them. Some people actually fear them," says former teacher Gerald Akili-Mali Serufuli.

Order takes the form of restricting people's movements as well as ensuring that rebel troops do not misbehave. Mr. Kabila assured visiting journalists they could travel anywhere in rebel territory. But days of waiting for a pass yielded nothing. Rebels will often stop travelers at roadblocks, saying they can go no further for safety reasons. But such secrecy raises the question of what the rebels want to hide.

In case anyone forgets who is in charge, the Voice of the People radio station broadcasts regular military communiqus from Bukavu in a manner reminscient of the former Soviet bloc.

Money trouble

With ambushes by Mai-Mai tribal warriors and Rwandan Hutu militias just 20 miles outside Goma, local authorities blame their economic powerlessness on the war. Whatever their good intentions, revenue has not yet come forward to spur towns back to a working order.

The governor says that a few administrators have been given token bags of rice in lieu of payment. He hopes full salaries will resume in early March. But he can't make any promises.

"Everything must go to the war effort for the moment," he says.

Local businessmen, speaking softly, complain that the new authorities demand bribes as much as their predecessors. It appears there is no other way to raise money at the moment. And aid workers say Kabila's men robbed banks and did their own share of looting when they took control of Goma in November.

Stated hopes of getting the economy going again have so far yielded few results. Particularly elusive are promises by foreign mining companies to restart activities that were halted by the war.

There has also been little progress in rebuilding Goma, which had deteriorated into a sorry state even before the rebels came to town. Mobutu lavishly refurbished his palace, but neglected Goma's schools and roads. Looting by soldiers ruined many a business. The multitude of Rwandan refugees added to the strain.

The area is known as the Great Lakes for the giant shimmering bodies of water that were resorts under Belgian colonial rule. Even a couple years ago, those with money went water-skiing, boating, or trekking for gorillas in the nearby mountains.

Now most of the shops and hotels on Goma's main street are shuttered. In Bukavu, the once elegant Hotel Residence had only two guests for several days straight. Despite a six-page menu, the restaurant served only one item - tough, stringy chicken - night after night.

To retain continuity, the rebels have largely kept the civil service intact, except for naming a new top layer of administrators, including Goma's governor.

Things continue largely as they did before. People go to work, as they did under the previous regime, without being paid.

Those that don't have work walk aimlessly around town. Gerald is one; he says he does not see the point of resuming his job as a teacher if he isn't going to receive a salary. Instead, he has joined the legions of men who hang around the town's few functioning hotels, offering their services as translators and guides to the foreigners staying there.

For townspeople like Gerald, the biggest fear is what is coming next and whether the regime can cope with it.Goma residents anxiously ask outsiders if they know when and how Mobutu will launch his threatened counterattack. The rumors in the streets are of imminent air bombings with the help of French foreign powers.

"Is it next week?" a local businessman asks. His computers were sacked when Zaire's Army retreated this fall, and his air transport business has little to transport. "Do you think it really safe now?"

* This is the second of a two-part series. Part 1 ran Thursday and covered the military successes of the rebels.

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