French troops sent to Zaire

Click to follow
The Independent Online
KINSHASA - A handful of French troops arrived in Zaire's devastated capital yesterday and aid workers reported at least 45 deaths in two days of rioting by mutinous soldiers. Ten French paratroopers crossed the river from neighbouring Congo to strengthen security at embassy buildings, a defence ministry spokesman in Paris said.

Witnesses said bodies littered the streets of Kinshasa as calm returned last night. Most of the dead were Zairean troops who went on the rampage on Thursday in protest over low pay. They were killed by better-armed security forces loyal to President Mobutu Sese Seko, the witnesses said.

Belgium and France said they were evacuating their 4,000 nationals after at least three foreigners, including France's ambassador, were killed.

France sent 150 marines to Brazzaville, the Congolese capital, and former colonial ruler Belgium said it had 500 paratroopers on standby to help the evacuation.

There was no official death toll from the worst rioting in Zaire since September 1991, when 250 people were killed in a first army mutiny over pay.

The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), with eight staff in Kinshasa, yesterday reported at least 45 dead and 131 wounded in the city of three million people. 'Our people visited the five main hospitals in Kinshasa,' Gerda Bossier, MSF spokeswoman, said in Brussels.

Zairean troops of the Special Presidential Division (DSP), the Civil Guard and the Military Action and Intelligence Service (SARM), all loyal to the President, raced through Kinshasa in armoured vehicles. They used heavy weapons and grenades against soldiers angry at getting what they believed were worthless five-million Zaire banknotes for their January pay.

Small groups of mutineers were still looting in outlying districts yesterday and on the university campus, raiding the few shops which still had goods and the houses of rich Zaireans.