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Kengo returns to Zaire; Mobutu cancels appearance in Monaco

March 20, 1997

KINSHASA, Zaire (AP) _ The man who claims to be Zaire’s prime minister returned home today to face a parliamentary revolt and demands from the military for more money and authority.

President Mobutu Sese Seko, meanwhile, canceled a promised appearance before journalists meant to dispel rumors he was seriously ill. Nzanga Mobutu said his father, who returned to his villa on the French Riviera on Wednesday from a Monaco hospital, was too busy today for the photo session.

``He is leaving tomorrow morning for the capital, Kinshasa,″ Nzanga Mobutu said. ``He intends to meet members of the government and the military to resolve the crisis in Zaire.″

Mobutu has spent most of the past several months in Europe recovering from surgery for prostate cancer.

The status of Zaire’s prime minister, who wields great power, remained confused. While parliament voted to fire Leon Kengo wa Dondo on Tuesday, the government said he remains in office.

Kengo arrived at the Kinshasa airport this morning after attending an international meeting on Zaire’s crisis in Kenya on Wednesday. Asked if he remained prime minister, he told The Associated Press: ``Until it’s proven otherwise, yes.″

Supporters of Etienne Tshisekedi, a popular opposition leader and longtime Mobutu foe, said today they wanted Tshisekedi to take over the government and open talks with the rebels.

Parliament elected Tshisekedi prime minister in 1992, but Mobutu refused to confirm him, so lawmakers eventually settled on Kengo two years later.

Adrien Phongo, general secretary of Tshisekedi’s Democratic Union for Social Progress, said the party has already had informal contacts with the rebels, led by Laurent Kabila.

``Kabila and Tshisekedi are both of the opposition. We have common objectives,″ Phongo said. ``We believe that we are in a better place to find a solution for the country″

In the first army comment since the government’s humiliating loss of Kisangani, the country’s third-largest city, Chief of Staff Mayele Lieko Bokungu said Wednesday that he ordered troops not to ``loot, steal and vandalize″ as they have been doing in town after town.

Rebels, who have been battling since September to oust Mobutu, now control the eastern third of this vast, mineral-rich central African country.

Mayele’s appearance came amid fears in the capital the military was plotting to take over the government, now in a state of chaos. But Mayele, in prepared comments, focused on the war effort.

``The army, from today on, must itself be responsible for the acquisition and administration of logistics,″ Mayele said. ``The Zairian army ... will continue the war unless they receive contrary orders.″

The military has long accused the government, specifically Kengo, of not giving it sufficient financing to fight the rebel forces, and of meddling in the conduct of the war.

Encouraged by a 48-hour amnesty announced on rebel-run radio, dozens of Kisangani residents returned stolen property to roadside trucks.

``It’s not my people who looted this stuff, it’s Mobutu’s army,″ said Victor Abuka, who organized residents to return boxes of medical supplies. ``We’ve recovered a lot of things.″

A World Food Program cargo plane loaded with 35 tons of cornmeal flour flew into Kisangani on Wednesday, the first relief food to arrive since the rebels took control Saturday.

Fearing a military coup, foreigners and wealthy Kinshasans have been leaving by plane and boat in recent days. Police in Brazzaville, across the Zaire River from Kinshasa, said Mobutu’s son Mobutu Kongulu Ndolo, an army general and businessman, was one of those fleeing to the Congo.

France recommended today that its 1,500 citizens leave Zaire and sent five military aircraft to nearby Gabon for a possible evacuation.

The United States has already authorized voluntary departure for State Department employees and their dependents from Kinshasa. It has sent experts to check out roads and airfields in case Americans have to be evacuated.

The ailing Mobutu has been in power nearly 32 years, a dictatorship that has made him one of the world’s richest men while his country became one of the world’s poorest.

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