Two steps to curtail tragedy in Zaire Regime crumbles: Mobutu must depart, refugees need humanitarian aid.

March 14, 1997

IT IS ABUNDANTLY clear that Zairians will not fight to save the presidency of Mobutu Sese Seku, whose chief protectors are foreigners: Hutu refugees who were soldiers in Rwanda; Serb and Croatian mercenaries, and some UNITA insurrectionaries of Jonas Savimbi in Angola. But Zairian civilians, aside from the ruling clique in Kinshasa, are more afraid of the Zairian army -- unpaid looters who won't fight -- than of the rebels. Better the devil they don't know.

Rebel forces of Laurent Kabila are moving inexorably forward from the fifth of the country they occupy. Their aim is to supplant President Mobutu. What Mr. Kabila would do in his place is anyone's guess. He was a youth leader supporting the leftist prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated by Colonel Mobutu with the help of the CIA in 1961.

Their stronghold then was Stanleyville, which is now Kisangani. Mr. Kabila's forces are closing in on it. This has brought old revolutionaries out of the Zairian and European woodwork. Their 1960s rhetoric of pan-African socialism is irrelevant in contemporary Africa and not a program for Zaire. Mr. Kabila initially enlisted ethnic Tutsis who were eager to disperse armed Hutu camps and who felt oppressed by the Mobutu regime. Their goal is achieved. His goal is the distant capital, Kinshasa, and the mineral-rich provinces of Shaba and Kasai along the way. He is getting technical help from the armies of Uganda and Angola, and nothing has stopped him so far.

President Mobutu is 66, suffering from prostate cancer and fabulously wealthy. He can live on the French Riviera the rest of his natural days. Two things are necessary to forestall more tragedy and anarchy. The first is for him to abdicate and hand power to an interim coalition, including present government and rebel figures, which would hold previously scheduled elections this year. This is best brokered by African regimes that are trying, so far with more cooperation from Mr. Kabila than from Mr. Mobutu.

Second, Western governments should speed humanitarian aid to the desperately fleeing Hutu refugees, separating them from the armed men and insuring them a safe haven in camps and later in their own country, Rwanda. But trying to stop Mr. Kabila now would be a folly. The corrupt incompetence of the Mobutu regime has guaranteed him success.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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