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Deadline passes, Zairian rebels insist Mobutu must go

April 13, 1997

GOMA, Zaire (AP) _ Zairian rebels told President Mobutu Sese Seko they now want him to leave the country and said they made good on their threat to resume their push toward the capital if the ailing dictator did not step down by Sunday.

Rebel chief Laurent Desire Kabila had given Mobutu three days to resign or watch the rebels _ who in seven months have captured nearly half the mineral-rich country _ advance on Kinshasa.

``We have decided we won’t give Mobutu another chance,″ said Bizima Karaha, the rebels’ foreign affairs adviser. ``We want him to leave the country and then we can negotiate a cease-fire.″

Karaha told reporters in the rebel headquarters town of Goma that the rebels have resumed their offensive after a three-day lull in fighting, but he did not say when or where.

``They want war, and they will get it,″ he said.

On Saturday, after considerable international pressure, Mobutu for the first time said he was willing to meet Kabila face to face _ ``if he asks politely.″

Such a meeting has been one of the rebel alliance’s key demands, but Kabila has yet to respond publicly to the indirect offer. Karasha said that even if Kabila accepts it, the rebel message will not change.

``The objectives of the alliance are always the same _ negotiations can only be about Mr. Mobutu resigning,″ Karaha said.

Karaha said Kabila may soon travel to South Africa ``to boost these negotiations″ to speed Mobutu’s departure. South African President Nelson Mandela has played host to peace talks between aides to Mobutu and Kabila in recent weeks.

The president of neighboring Congo, Pascal Lissouba, met with Mobutu on Saturday and said he would bring unspecified proposals from him to Kabila.

The rebels claim they are within 155 miles of the capital, at Bandundu. They took Lubumbashi, Zaire’s second-largest city, on Friday. Red Cross workers cleared bodies Sunday from the airport, which was littered with wrecked vehicles and spent cartridges.

In Kinshasa, residents were gearing up for Monday’s ``dead city″ day, a one-day strike in which workers and shopkeepers stay home to show solidarity with the opposition.

Japan has evacuated all but 11 of its 39 citizens from Zaire because it doesn’t have the means to do so during an emergency, said Seromi Okamoto, charge d’affaires at the Japanese Embassy in the capital.

The French and Belgian embassies have also evacuated some of their citizens. U.S. Ambassador Daniel Simpson said Sunday there was no heightened readiness for an evacuation at the U.S. Embassy.

Meanwhile, the airlift of up to 100,000 Rwandan refugees from the jungles of Zaire to their homeland will begin late this week, said U.N. refugee agency spokesman Peter Kessler in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Rwandan Hutus fled to eastern Zaire in 1994 after extremists among them slaughtered at least 500,000 minority Tutsis.

As Zairian rebels seeking to oust Mobutu have moved west _ backed by the Rwandan Tutsi-led government and fighting armed Hutus as they went _ refugees have fled deeper into the remote jungles of north-central Zaire.

Despite food and medical aid, refugees continue to die at excessive rates in makeshift camps strung out along the Zaire River, Kessler said.

Also Sunday, a Lebanese newspaper reported that rebels were holding 51 Lebanese businessmen for ransom in the Zairian diamond-mining capital of Mbuji-Mayi. But Lebanese businessman in the town, Ali Fakih, told The Associated Press by telephone none of his countrymen were being held against their will. He blamed the report on businessmen who wanted help getting out.

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