Mobutu call to arms as rebels near Kinshasa

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The Independent Online
Kinshasa was flooded with leaf-lets yesterday promising that Laurent Kabila's advancing rebels, apparently just 100 kilometres from the Zairean capital, would storm the city by the weekend. Acknowledging that the rebels are closer than ever, the government declared a curfew and called on civilians to take up arms.

There is uncertainty about how far President Mobutu Sese Soko can count on his own forces to defend him against the approaching rebels. Such is his paranoia about treachery in the forces that it is said he has installed 250 soldiers from Chad at his official city residence, Camp Tshatshi.

A week ago, another wave of leaflets appeared in Kinshasa, urging government soldiers to support the pro-rebel elements in their ranks and to make white staffs and flags to show support when the rebels hit the capital.

"We are taking the leaflets seriously," said one middle ranking officer, who prefers to remain anonymous. "Less than a third still support Mobutu. Most of us already have the scarves and flags ready." Are they not afraid their command-ing officers will find them? "Why should we be?" he says. "They have already made their own."

Efforts to negotiate a soft landing for Zaire continue. South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki yesterday postponed last-minute visits to President Mobutu in Kinshasa and Mr Kabila, at his headquarters in Lubumbashi. The second round of peace talks is scheduled to begin today on the Outeniqua, a South African supply ship. But just 24 hours from the summit, negotiators admitted substantial differences between the rebel and the dictator remained.

However upbeat their public statements, Mr Mbeki and President Nelson Mandela are reluctant to board the ship with- out an agreement, in principle, on a transfer of power. Ten days ago, a Herculean effort was required just to get both President Mobutu and Mr Kabila on ship at the same time.

When - or if - talks get under way today, Kinshasa will be on strike. Leading opposition figure, Etienne Tshisekedi, oddly quiet during the rebels' advance, has called a ville morte (dead town) day, to pro-test about proposals that would allow President Mobutu to transfer power, transitionally, to Roman Catholic Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo.

Yesterday's propaganda leaf-lets instructed people to stay at home until the weekend, by which time the capital would be in rebel hands through brute force rather than diplomacy.

In his huge bare office in Zaire's deserted transitional parliament, Valentin Mubake, opposition leader and parliamentary spokesman, shows considerable admiration for Mr Kabila. Mr Mubake, a man dedicated to peaceful change, has found passivism has its limits. Zaire's democratic transition, scheduled to take two years, has now stretched to seven and at every turn reformers have been thwarted by President Mobutu.

"We in the opposition have created a climate for change," said Mr Mubake. "But without Kabila's use of force, Mobutu would remain in power and his people would be there for ever." The international community, he argues, must do nothing at this crucial stage to slow Mr Kabila's arrival.

"Monsengwo is unacceptable as a transitional figure and there are no other suitable candidates," says Mr Mubake, one of the new breed of politicians to emerge in Zaire since reforms started. He was part of an opposition walk-out at the weekend when, in a typical piece of Zairean political pantomime, the majority pro-Mobutists engineered Arch- bishop Monsengwo's election as Parliamentary Chairman.

"Mobutu is not just a man," said Mr Mubake. "After 32 years he is a system which has poisoned every area and level of national life. Even those in religious robes ... cannot be taken at face value. Monsengwo is Mobutu's man and this transitional plan is Mobutu's."

The notion that a transitional power figure would save President Mobutu's dignity and smooth a non-violent transfer is scorned by Mr Mubake. "What face does he have left to lose? He is simply buying time."

Earlier this week, a rebel spokesman claimed foreign countries were trying to prevent a necessary revolution. Mr Mubake agrees, claiming any transitional arrangement will shield President Mobutu and thousands of corrupt cronies who have grown obscenely rich in poverty-ridden Zaire. If Zaire is to have a chance, they must be routed. Mr Mubake believes rebel assurances that they will work with the opposition.