Mobutu attacks West in attempt to retain power



Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 30 October 1991

Zaire’s diplomatic onslaught against Western powers intensified yesterday after Belgian troops were told to leave the country and the French ambassador was accused of planning the destabilisation of President Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime.

Last night Mr Mobutu appeared to have confirmed his appointment of Mungul Diaka as Prime Minister. The appointment comes after Mr Mobutu dismissed the opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, from the post a week ago. Demonstrators immediately took to the streets of Kinshasa.

Mr Mobutu’s attack on Western diplomats came as splits over strategy opened further between the US on the one hand and France and Belgium on the other.

The US believes chaos will result if Mr Mobutu is forced out. France and Belgium have made it clear that he should accept that his credibility has disappeared and relinquish power.

The pro-government Conscience newspaper cited taped telephone conversations between the French ambassador, Henri Rethore, and the French foreign ministry which are in Mr Mobutu’s possession and allegedly reveal plans to undermine the 26-year dictatorship.

The French embassy in Kinshasa has made no official response to the recordings, which were apparently made in defiance of rules guaranteeing the privacy       of diplomatic communications.

Attempts by Belgium, France, and the US to present a united front in their dealings with Mr Mobutu are now in jeopardy. Belgium has put forward plans for a military force to be sent to Zaire under the banner of the Organisation of African Unity.

The Brussels decision-making process appears to be in great disarray: no African government was consulted before the plan was put forward and Belgium’s embassy in Kinshasa was not given notice before the announcement by its foreign minister, Mark Eyskens. Neither France nor the US were aware of the plan, emphasising the gulf between the three.

Mr Mobutu has now put further pressure on Belgium by demanding that it withdraw its 850 paratroopers sent to Zaire five weeks ago to oversee the evacuation of foreign nationals. The demand took Belgium completely by surprise, as plans to retain a permanent military presence had not been ruled out.

The extent to which the security situation has worsened has become Clearer. Big towns in the interior are now reported to have been completely looted. Worst hit were the towns of Kananga and the diamond centre of. Tshikapa. Belgium evacuated 500 foreign nationals from 15 towns in the interior on Monday, as part of its final evacuation which will be completed today.

An army takeover if the political deadlock is not broken has become more likely, senior military sources in Kinshasa believe.

Hardliners in the regime, particularly Zaire’s ambassador to Israel, General Eloki, are thought to be close to preventing further change, even if it means confronting Mr Mobutu.

The army chief of staff, General Mahele, announced at the weekend that soldiers would immediately execute looters, a strong sign that the army intends to take an active role. “If the situation deteriorates further, military action is inevitable,” one Western source said yesterday.

The Zairean army has about 100,000 personnel. The largest sector is the regular army known as the Zairean Armed Forces (FAZ), which numbers 81,000, of whom 60,000 are under arms.

Next in size is the 12,000-strong Civil Guard, headed by General Baramoto, brother-in-law to Mr Mobutu. But it is the Special Presidential Division (DSP), with 6,500 under arms, which represents the strong arm of Mr Mobutu’s rule,

Both the Civil Guard and the DSP are answerable to the president, while the FAZ is controlled by the ministry of defence.

Senior army officers are largely from Mr Mobutu’s Equateur region and have been trained by France, Belgium, China, and Egypt. South Africa now has a military training role, while Israel is responsible for training the DSP.


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