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Zaire's Mobutu returns home,
plans to meet rebel leader

May 10, 1997
Web posted at: 12:13 p.m. EDT (1613 GMT)

KINSHASA, Zaire (CNN) -- Embattled President Mobutu Sese Seko returned to his capital Kinshasa Saturday, ending rumors that he would immediately head into exile. Mobutu was to meet with rebel leader Laurent Kabila on Wednesday for a second round of talks in which the president's future role in Zaire would be the main topic.

"Both of them have agreed to meet on Wednesday on the boat," South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki told reporters in the Gabonese capital Libreville.

The first session between Mobutu and Kabila, mediated by South African President Nelson Mandela, was held last weekend on a South African ship off the coast of Angola. The meeting ended inconclusively after Kabila demanded that power be handed directly to him and Mobutu refused.

U.S. optimistic of peaceful transition

Mobutu returned to Zaire from Gabon, where he met earlier in the week with other Central African presidents. Western diplomats and at least one Mobutu aide said privately they believed Mobutu might use his trip to Gabon as a stepping stone to exile, especially with rebel forces reportedly less than three days from taking Kinshasa.

Bill Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he still believed a peaceful transition in Zaire was possible. He said any new government would "most likely" be headed by Kabila in light of his military victories.

Appearing on CNN International Saturday, Hamedou Ould-Abdallah, the executive secretary for the Global Coalition for Africa, predicted that not only would Kabila be the likely head of a new government, but Mobutu would minimize damage to Kinshasa by ceding power even before the Wednesday meeting.


"Trying to have face-saving miracles are not helping him, are not helping his legacy, are not helping his clan," Ould-Abdallah said. "If I were Mobutu ... I would say I united Zaire, the conditions are not helping me today to continue, I would like to leave and hand power to Mr. Kabila or to someone else.

And he should make move without delay, Ould-Abdallah said, because "every single day is a day helping the rebellion and his own enemies."

Kabila's forces hold more than three-quarters of the country, the third largest on the African continent.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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