British commandos stand by to pull Westerners out of Zaire

British special forces, including members of the Royal Marines' Special Boat Service, are among about 2,000 Western troops waiting in the wings to pull Western civilians out of Zaire if the situation there deteriorates further.

The SBS - seaborne commandos - are less well-known than the Army's SAS but operate in even more hostile conditions, as canoeists and frogmen on enemy coasts, delivered to their targets by ships and submarines.

It was the SBS, not the SAS, who carried out the first special-forces operation in the Gulf War, cutting the fibre-optic cable linking Saddam Hussein's headquarters with his Scud-missile launch sites, just 40 miles from Baghdad. Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, is a former member of the SBS.

The British force at present is modest - about 15 specialists, providing reconnaissance and expertise in the use of specialised equipment.

An estimated 470 Britons are among Western foreigners still in Zaire. Diplomatic sources at the weekend said their advice to Western nationals was still at "phase one" level - do not go to Zaire unless you have to and leave unless it is imperative to stay. There are two more stages; "get out" - by commercial means - and, finally, assisted evacuation, when no commercial means are available.

The main escape route from the capital, Kinshasa, is north across the Zaire river into Brazzaville. On the other side, about 1,200 French and 500 Belgian troops are waiting to help Western nationals to leave the country.

The French and the Belgians both have historical links with the country and their presence is also a reflection of a desire to maintain political influence, rather than a reflection of the number of their own nationals. The United States has several hundred troops in the area, but would play its biggest part by providing air transport.

The anti-government rebels, who control one-fifth of Zaire, say their forces are 100 miles from the southern mining capital of Lubumbashi and half that distance from the diamond-mining capital of Mbuji-Mayi. Johannesburg- based investment analyst John Klemmow told the news agency Reuters that the rebels were already offering gold prospecting concessions, in parts of the country they control, to foreign companies.

Laurent Kabila, the rebel leader, yesterday dispatched a senior aide to represent him in Togo at tomorrow's special Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit on Zaire's civil war, officials said.

US and French envoys lobbied some 20 African countries to convince them to push for a ceasefire and talks at the summit, French officials said. But regional analysts doubted the success of the summit in the absence of Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Pasteur Bizimungu of Rwanda, as well as Mr Kabila.

President Mobutu Sese Seko, back in Zaire after cancer treatment, has not said whether he will attend but his journey home on Friday left him so drained that he sent away an official welcoming committee and did not appear in public until Sunday.

The main scapegoat for the government's failure to push back the rebels handed in his resignation to Mr Mobutu yesterday. The transitional parliament voted to oust Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo and his government last week, but Mr Kengo at first rejected the move as unconstitutional. The main opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, is the most likely candidate to succeed Mr Kengo.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
music
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
film
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn