Zaire opposition build barricades as talks fail



Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 10 October 1991

Opposition militants in the Zairean capital last night blocked roads in the city after the collapse of talks with President Mobutu Sese Seko regarding the formation of a crisis government and threats by opposition leaders to call their supporters out onto the streets.

Rocks and car wheels blocked the road to the headquarters of the Prime Minister, Etienne . Tshisekedi, who was appointed on September 30. The impasse came after two meetings yesterday between the President and Mr Tshisekedi, who leads the opposition to Mr Mobutu.

At an impromptu press conference last night, Mr Tshisekedi said that after a meeting with Mr Mobutu yesterday morning, the opposition coalition, known as the Sacred Union, had made a significant concession by accepting that Mr Mobutu could name the defence minister.

But by yesterday afternoon, the President had demanded that he be allowed to nominate a further 10 ministers, which would give his ruling Popular Movement for the Revolution (MPR) party, a majority in the crisis government.

“We will call our supporters out onto the streets,” Mr Tshisekedi said.

President Mobutu said last night that the collapse of the talks was not the end of discussions, adding that the two sides should reconvene the committee which nominated had Mr Tshisekedi last week. He admitted the two sides were “very far apart”.

In meetings over the past week, the two sides had been deadlocked over the defence and security portfolios, which Mr Mobutu had insisted were in his gift as head of state. On Tuesday he devolved many defence ministry powers to his newly appointed chief of staff, thereby reducing the powers of any new political appointee.

Mr Tshisekedi said last night that he did not intend to hold another meeting with Mr Mobutu. Yesterday’s meeting was the fourth since the Prime Minister was appointed. The breakdown of talks is the most serious incident since riots broke out two weeks ago as popular discontent at the country’s slide towards economic ruin erupted into violence led by soldiers demanding a pay rise.

Mr Mobutu averted fresh riots at the weekend by agreeing to the soldiers’ demands. However, it is uncertain where the money to pay the wages will come from.

French and Belgian troops who were sent to Zaire to protect foreign nationals when the riots broke out, are expected to be withdrawn within the next two weeks, whether or not the political deadlock has been broken, diplomatic sources in Kinshasa said yesterday.

A meeting held in Paris on Monday between the major powers with close links to the Mobutu regime – France, Belgium and the United States – foundered when the US failed to turn up.

Diplomatic sources have made strong suggestions that these three countries have little intention of diverting Zaire away from a crisis. Mr Mobutu, who has relied on all three to keep him in power during previous crises, is now seen as having decided that he will cling to power come what may.

An interview earlier this week, which was published in the Guardian, finally led to France and Belgium deciding that there was little or nothing they could do to steer events in the country, diplomatic sources said.

In the interview Mr Mobutu said he intended to hold on to power and that he would use his authority over the army to do so.

Diplomatic sources have suggested that France, with Belgium following suit, has decided that military action in Africa, will no longer typify its policy, as it did in 1978 when it sent troops to fight anti-Mobutu rebels in southern Zaire.


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