Mobutu's men still walking tall in New York

David Usborne,New York
Wednesday 21 May 1997 23:02

Whatever may be happening in Kinshasa - the tearing down of images of Mobutu Sese Seko, the swooping into town at nightfall of Laurent Kabila, the renaming of an entire country - at the United Nations headquarters in New York nothing is happening.

Here, in the citadel of world diplomacy, business goes on just as before as regards the third largest country in Africa. "As of now," the chief UN spokesman, Fred Eckhard, confirmed yesterday, "Zaire is still Zaire". And he adds, "And Mobutu's people are still the people here and who we deal with".

Peer out of Mr Eckhard's first-floor window and there, wafting in a gentle May breeze, is proof of this Zairean limbo. The flag of Zaire, ten poles down from the Union Jack, still flies defiantly, a square of pale green with a black arm and fist at its centre.

Indeed, wander to the conference rooms in the bowels of the buildings to where the committees of the General Assembly are in session and there, apparently engrossed in the debate at hand, is a diplomat from the mission of Zaire - one of, as Mr Eckhard puts it, "Mobutu's people".

None of this is considered particularly strange at the UN, which is perfectly used to countries suddenly reinventing themselves. The break-up of the Soviet Union brought the biggest reshuffle in the flag-poles outside ever. (The flags are hoisted from north to south according to alphabetic order).

Soon, one assumes, Zaire (and the gentleman still at the mission) will vanish from here too. Once a new government is formed, it must do two things: formally present a new ambassador to the UN, the credentialling of whom would then be approved by a UN committee. No problem is likely there.

It must also inform the UN Secretariat of the country's change of name. "Once there has been a critical mass of other governments recognising the new government, then we will make that acknowledgement also," said Mr Eckhard.

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