Victorious rebels condemn western interference

May 21, 1997


Victorious rebels condemn western interference

By Norm Dixon

On May 17, less than 24 hours after Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko fled the capital leaving his newly appointed parliamentary speaker in charge, the young fighters of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) marched into Kinshasa. Mobutu's soldiers ran away or shed their uniforms and joined the celebration of the end of Mobutu's 32-year western-backed reign of terror. White headbands and flags, the symbol of support for the rebels, were worn and waved as relieved Kinshasans chanted "Liberty!" and "Kabila!".

The dictator's ignominious demise came rapidly after Laurent Kabila, leader of the rebel alliance, on May 15 abandoned the second round of talks with Mobutu.

Kabila's decision came after it became clear that South Africa, the United States and the United Nations the talks' brokers would continue to demand that the rebels give up at the negotiating table what they have won on the ground.

ADFL leaders have been under enormous pressure from western capitals, particularly Washington, Paris and Pretoria, to agree to an "inclusive" transitional administration that would include elements of the Mobutu regime and the so-called "non-violent" parliamentary opposition.

The rebels, while prepared to attend western-sponsored talks, consistently refused to share power with any party tainted with Mobutuism, including the discredited opposition politicians in Kinshasa, led by Etienne Tshisekedi. They have put forward one simple demand: that Mobutu resign immediately and allow the rebel alliance to take power.

The US goal has been to pressure the ADFL into maintaining the corrupt state machinery of the Mobutu regime, and many of its pro-western servants, even if Mobutu himself departs the scene. This is what US emissary Bill Richardson meant when he said the US wanted a "soft landing" for the rebels in Kinshasa. Washington, Paris and Pretoria all fear that an ADFL administration, brought to power on the crest of a popular uprising, will align itself with the interests of the people of Zaire rather than those of US, European and South African mining companies.

Kabila's patience with the west's thinly disguised support for Mobutuism snapped on the eve of the second round of talks, scheduled for May 14. While in Gabon a few days earlier, Mobutu met with South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki proposed that Mobutu hand power to the speaker of Zaire's parliament before leaving for France for "medical treatment". The speaker would then form a transitional administration to prepare elections.

Upon his return to Kinshasa, the dictator dutifully arranged for his supporters who dominate parliament to elect Monsignor Laurent Monsengwo Pasenya, a Catholic archbishop, as speaker. Monsengwo then invited Kabila to "join" the transitional government he would head after Mobutu resigned. The ADFL immediately rejected the bishop's appointment, calling him an ally of Mobutu.

Even Monsengwo's election was too much for the tame-cat parliamentary opposition, who walked out in uproar as the vote was taken. In protest, the opposition and ADFL supporters called for a three-day ville morte (dead city) general strike to begin on May 14 to coincide with the Kabila-Mobutu talks in the neighbouring Congo.

On May 13, the Mobutu regime imposed an 8pm-6am curfew and troops began door-to-door searches for rebel "collaborators". "The curfew has nothing to do with any progression of the rebels", state radio stated unconvincingly. The general strike was widely observed, leaving normally bustling streets empty and shops and markets closed. Leaflets circulating in Kinshasa call on residents to fly white flags to show their support for the rebels. Opposition MPs, and even some former members of Mobutu's party, are busy organising welcoming committees for the rebels.

With ADFL fighters already on the outskirts of the capital, and the general strike representing an overwhelming popular endorsement of the rebel demand that the ADFL form the next administration, Kabila had little choice but to abandon the second round of talks at which South Africa, the US and UN would insist the rebels endorse the Monsengwo transitional regime.

Interviewed on national US public radio on May 14, Kabila hit out at the role of the western powers. He said that Kinshasa would have changed hands peacefully before now but for their interference. "The [western powers] can't now come in, imposing a lot of conditions and choosing for our people who should be their leader again and again. It is time for those big powers to leave the people of this country alone ... they are trying to complicate the situation by machination and intrigue so that the Mobutuists, the ones who have destroyed this country, remain in power without their boss, Mobutu."

Kabila appealed for solidarity from the people of the west. US military intervention remains a possibility. The US government has positioned the USS Kearsarge off the coast with 2365 military personnel aboard. There are another 280 troops stationed in Brazzaville nearby. Another 2000 troops from France, Belgium, Britain and Portugal are also standing-by in the Congolese capital.

"Americans should be informed about the intrigues, machinations and manipulations of keeping our country under a clique of puppets of foreign countries so that the confusion, the misery can continue. For those who would like to see this country become democratic where freedom will enable the people to rebuild their country they can ask those big powers, the US government and other western countries, to give a chance to the people of the democratic Congo to settle their disputes themselves."

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