Troops make last ditch fight for Zaire capital
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May 12, 1997
Web posted at: 10:51 p.m. EDT (0251 GMT)
KINSHASA, Zaire (CNN) -- With a new round of peace talks slated Wednesday, both sides in Zaire's civil conflict are engaged in a heated battles on the outskirts of Kinshasa, the capital.
Zaire's notoriously undisciplined troops appear to be making a last ditch stand in defense of the capital and have slowed a lightning rebel offensive.
Zaire's information minister, Kin-Kiey Mulumba, said after a special cabinet meeting that the front line was around Kenge, 125 miles (200 km) straight line distance from Kinshasa.
'Fighting is very violent'
"The fighting is very violent," he told state radio. "The FAZ (Zairian Armed Forces) are busy maintaining the front line and pushing it back."
The rebels admit to facing stiff resistance, but insist they continue to advance on Kinshasa on all fronts.
"The end should come very swiftly. I do not see the hold-out on Kinshasa lasting long. It will come in the next few days," Joseph Kabila, son of rebel leader Laurent Kabila and commander of front-line troops, said.
Kabila's rebels, who took up arms in October in a dispute over Zairian nationality for ethnic Tutsis, control three quarters of Africa's third largest country.
For the most part, rebel troops have overwhelmed the government soldiers. Witnesses say the government troops have done little more that loot, pillage and retreat.
But Kinshasa is being defended by a core group of soldiers loyal to Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko, and they appear willing to fight for their longtime leader.
Peace talks, mediated by South African President Nelson Mandela, are scheduled Wednesday aboard a ship stationed off the African coast. Mandela chaired an inconclusive initial meeting on May 4.
Since then, Kabila's rebels have been talking tough. And after initially promising to hold back their advance, rebels resumed their march on the capital this weekend.
'Soft landing, or tough entry'
"Our understanding is that we are going to the boat to accept Mobutu's resignation, nothing less, nothing more," rebel foreign affairs spokesman, Bizima Karaha, said. "Wednesday will determine whether we make a soft landing in Kinshasa or a tough military entry," Karaha said.
South Africa's Deputy President Thabo Mbeki said the meeting may prove a last chance for a negotiated solution. He predicted intensive discussions between South African mediators and Kabila, Mobutu and various countries with an interest in ending the war.
Mbeki said he would probably travel to Zaire on Tuesday to hold separate meetings with Kabila and Mobutu, Zaire's longtime ruler who is suffering from cancer. He identified the main issues as composition of a transitional authority, a timetable for setting it up and the timing of Mobutu's resignation.
The United States on Monday renewed pressure on Americans to
leave Zaire. "Our message is clear as a bell to the American
private community ... Get out of Zaire before you find yourself in harm's way," State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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