Bishop rejects power switch

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The Independent Online
Zaire's rebels yesterday accused foreign governments of trying to stop a revolution by brokering a deal which would transfer power from ailing dictator President Mobutu Sese Seko to the Zairean cleric Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo, writes Mary Braid.

The rebels, who have captured more than three-quarters of the country, insist President Mobutu must stand down and hand over power directly to rebel leader Laurent Kabila.

Yesterday the Archbishop said in Brussels that he would only bow to Zairean parliamentary pressure for him to accept the role under certain pre-conditions. In particular, he insisted his appointment should be acceptable to both sides. But the rebels warned that if he took the job they would abandon talks and take Kinshasa by force. The rebels say President Mobutu is behind a plan designed simply to buy time.

"Mobutu is a devil and a trickster," said Bizima Karaha, the rebels' spokesman in Lubumbashi. "He has used the talks to reinforce his troops, bring in Unita elements, former Rwandan troops, and consolidate his position in Kinshasa."

In the fierce battle last week for Kenge, 200kms east of Kinshasa, there were unconfirmed reports of Angolan government troops fighting for the Zairean rebels and Angolan Unita rebels fighting for the Zairean government.

"Our response to this is that we are abandoning our pledge [not to advance while talks were under way] and we are now advancing and will continue to advance. We shall now talk and fight and fight and talk."

That probably does not herald any change in strategy. But the rebels' fighting talk leaves the vexed question of what exactly Mr Kabila and President Mobutu will have to talk about if they meet - as they have agreed to do - for a second round of face-to-face talks on the South African supply ship Outiniqua on Wednesday.

The South Africans continue to insist a diplomatic breakthrough is imminent, but if both sides stick by their public statements it is difficult to see where it will come from.