A chronology of key events in the Congo

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Congo Leaders
Laurent Kabila           Joseph Mobutu           Patrice Lumumba

Population: 52 million
Capital: Kinshasa
Major languages: French, Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Main exports: Diamonds, copper, coffee, cobalt, crude oil

1200s - Rise of Kongo empire, centred in modern northern Angola and including extreme western Congo and territories round lakes Kisale and Upemba in central Katanga (now Shaba).

1482 - Portuguese navigator Diogo Cao becomes the first European to visit the Congo; Portuguese set up ties with the king of Kongo.

16th-17th centuries - British, Dutch, Portuguese and French merchants engage in slave trade through Kongo intermediaries.

Belgian colonisation

1870s - Belgian King Leopold II sets up a private venture to colonise Kongo.

1874-77 - British explorer Henry Stanley navigates Congo river to the Atlantic Ocean.

1879-87 - Leopold commissions Stanley to establish the king's authority in the Congo basin.

1884-85 - European powers at the Conference of Berlin recognise Leopold's claim to the Congo basin.

1885 - Leopold announces the establishment of the Congo Free State, headed by himself.

1891-92 - Belgians conquer Katanga.

1892-94 - Eastern Congo wrested from the control of East African Arab and Swahili-speaking traders.

1908 - Belgian state annexes Congo in the wake of condemnation of widespread human rights abuses there.

1955 - Belgian Professor Antoin van Bilsen publishes a "30-Year Plan" for granting the Congo increased self-government.

1959 - Belgium begins to lose control over events in the Congo following serious nationalist riots in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa).

Post-independence turmoil

1960 June - Congo becomes independent with Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president.

1960 July - Congolese army mutinies; Moise Tshombe declares Katanga independent; Belgian troops sent in ostensibly to protect Belgian citizens and mining interests; UN Security Council votes to send in troops to help establish order, but the troops are not allowed to intervene in internal affairs.

1960 September - Kasavubu dismisses Lumumba as prime minister.

1960 December - Lumumba arrested.

1961 February - Lumumba murdered; organized by the US and Belgian.

1961 August - UN troops begin disarming Katangese soldiers.

1963 - Tshombe agrees to end Katanga's secession.

1964 - President Kasavubu appoints Tshombe prime minister.

The Mobutu years

1965 - Kasavubu and Tshombe ousted in a coup led by Joseph Mobutu.

1971 - Joseph Mobutu renames the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko; also Katanga becomes Shaba and the river Congo becomes the river Zaire.

1973-74 - Mobutu nationalises many foreign-owned firms and forces European investors out of the country.

1977 - Mobutu invites foreign investors back, without much success; French, Belgian and Moroccan troops help repulse attack on Katanga by Angolan-based rebels.

1989 - Zaire defaults on loans from Belgium, resulting in a cancellation of development programmes and increased deterioration of the economy.

1990 - Mobutu agrees to end the ban on multiparty politics and appoints a transitional government, but retains substantial powers.

1991 - Following riots in Kinshasa by unpaid soldiers, Mobutu agrees to a coalition government with opposition leaders, but retains control of the security apparatus and important ministries.

1993 - Rival pro- and anti-Mobutu governments created.

1994 - Mobutu agrees to the appointment of Kengo Wa Dondo, an advocate of austerity and free-market reforms, as prime minister.

1996-97 - Tutsi rebels capture much of eastern Zaire while Mobutu is abroad for medical treatment.

Aftermath of Mobutu

1997 May - Tutsi and other anti-Mobutu rebels, aided principally by Rwanda, capture the capital, Kinshasa; Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo; Laurent-Desire Kabila installed as president.

1998 August - Rebel forces, backed by Rwandan and Ugandan troops, advance towards the capital, Kinshasa; the intervention of troops from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola turns the tide and the rebels are pushed back.

1998 September - Kinshasa, comes close to running out of food, while rebels face defeat in the west and thousands of the rebels who narrowly failed to reach Kinshasa are captured. Despite this, rebels in the east continue fighting.

1998 October - Rebels capture the government stronghold of Kindu in the east as more peace talks break down, this time in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

1999 February - Rebels say they have launched a major new offensive on three fronts in the north and the southeast as refugees flee the fighting.

1999 August - All rebel groups sign a peace agreement in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

1999 October - Amid allegations of ceasefire violations, rebel groups turn down an invitation from President Laurent Kabila to take part in a national dialogue on reconciliation.

2000 February - Ethnic fighting erupts between communities in the rebel-held east. Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council authorises a 5,500-strong UN force to monitor the ceasefire.

2000 August - Leaders of the countries involved in the Congolese civil war - Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe - as well as President Kabila meet in Lusaka to assess implementation of the previous year's peace agreement.

2001 January - Some three thousand Congolese soldiers held in camps in Zambia are sent back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The troops fled into Zambia following an upsurge of fighting with Rwandan-backed rebels in the border area in December.

2001 January 17 - Congo president Laurent Kabila is killed by one of his bodyguards. The assassination came at a time of mounting discontent in the army, which had recently suffered setbacks in the civil war. Three generals were arrested the previous week. The Belgian Foreign Ministry was the first to claim that they had been reliably informed of the president's death while Congo officials were reporting he was alive. Congo officials confirmed his death on January 18.

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