Mobutu defies rebel threat to take capital deadline to surrender

Zaire's beleaguered president will not bow to ultimatum, writes Ed O'Loughlin in Kinshasa

With a deadline for his effective surrender about to expire, Zaire's beleaguered President, Mobutu Sese Seko, seems determined to ignore the threats and warnings from rebel leader Laurent Kabila.

The streets of Kinshasa were calm yesterday, despite a three-day ultimatum issued on Wednesday by Mr Kabila for President Mobutu to stand down, or face further military action. And while rebel radio broadcasts have warned foreign residents to leave Kinshasa, there was no sign of a mass exodus of Westerners.

The rebels, who took the key southern mining centre of Lubumbashi in midweek, claim to have military units within 200km of Kinshasa, and to have infiltrated fifth-columnists into the capital itself. Western diplomats are sceptical of this claim and believe the nearest rebel forces are still several hundred kilometres away, across the rainforests and broken roads of central Zaire.

A Pentagon spokesman said in Washington on Tuesday that 1,200 US Marines and 400 other military personnel are in a state of high alert in the region, ready to go into Kinshasa to rescue the 430 US citizens living there. France, Belgium and Britain also have contingents on standby in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville, just across the Congo River from Kinshasa.

Western diplomats in Zaire appear to have embarked on a delicate mission to persuade Mr Mobutu to stand aside, but without provoking a panicked reaction from the regime. This week Belgium and the US, both former allies of Mr Mobutu, called on him to give up power. On Thursday the US State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said any strategic reason for backing Mr Mobutu had ended with the Cold War.

"Considering his state of health, the fact that all the institutions he created are decrepit, bankrupt, not credible and that the rebels have taken over at least half of the country, it was necessary to call again publicly for this kind of transition," Mr Burns said.

That same day, however, the American ambassador to Zaire, Daniel Simpson, was among several Western diplomats who paid courtesy calls on General Lubulia Bolongo, the military Prime Minister appointed by Mr Mobutu when he introduced a state of emergency. Afterwards Mr Simpson said he still believed Mr Mobutu had a role to play in ensuring peaceful change in Zaire.

"I don't think that Mobutu or any other one person is responsible for all the problems of this country," he said.

Yesterday General Bolongo announced a 28-member national salvation government, with top army generals in change of the defence and interior ministries.

Speculation in Kinshasa centres not so much on whether Mr Mobutu's rule will end, as when and how. If Mr Mobutu flees, he is likely to seek refuge in the south of France, where he owns a luxurious villa and where he has recently undergone treatment for cancer.

President Mobutu has shown himself to be a great survivor in his 32 years of rule, and few observers are yet prepared to write him off. Diplomats believe that some members of Mr Mobutu's entourage are still urging him to play his hand out to the end, as the President's abdication would rob them of any lingering chance they have to hold on to Zaire's vast mineral wealth.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?