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Zaire: Peace Possible?

May 9, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We start tonight with a Newsmaker interview with President Clinton’s special envoy to Zaire, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson. I spoke with him earlier this evening.

He returned to New York last night from nine days of shuttle diplomacy, which included meetings with President Mobutu Sese Seko and rebel leader Laurent Kabila. Kabila’s forces now control about 3/4 of the country and are advancing on the capital, Kinshasa.

The rebels are demanding Mobutu’s resignation. He has refused to resign, but yesterday he did say he would not run for re-election because he’s been weakened by prostate cancer. Charles Krause has more.

CHARLES KRAUSE: Yesterday, a regional summit in Gabon between Mobutu and a group of other French-speaking African presidents ended with a call for peace. Wearing his trademark leopard-skinned cap, Mobutu and host President Omar Bongo of Gabon walked hand-in-hand to the presidential palace. Despite the fanfare, however, the mood was somber. Heavy fighting continued near Kinshasa.

And U.S. military ground forces based in Congo prepared for a possible evacuation of expatriates living in Zaire.

SPOKESMAN: We bring about a hundred marines forward now and they would be the first troops that would go in if we need to do an evacuation and we also have some people here that would be manning the refugee control center, the evacuation control center to help the refugees.

CHARLES KRAUSE: In Paris, after a nine day long diplomatic mission in Africa, U.S. envoy Bill Richardson met with top officials to brief them on his efforts to negotiate a solution to the Zaire crisis.

BILL RICHARDSON: I came to France, our oldest ally, because of her historic and important role in Africa to discuss where we should go in dealing with the crisis. We believe that there must be no military solution to the political and economic crisis in Zaire.

CHARLES KRAUSE: The diplomatic whirlwind came after talks last weekend sponsored by South Africa failed to produce an agreement between Mobutu and rebel leader Kabila. Last Saturday, the U.S. State Department urged Americans in Zaire to leave, citing the “deteriorating security and political situation” and the “potential for unrest throughout the country.”

Then on Tuesday, Mobutu boarded his private Boeing 727 for Gabon. His departure fueled speculation that the ailing dictator might not return, although his intentions still remained unclear this afternoon.