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Western Press Review: Clash of Turmoil's Gears Sound in Africa

  • Don Hill

PRAGUE, 6 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The growling engine of chaos grinds across Africa and, especially in Zaire, commands the attention of Western commentators.

HARTFORD COURANT: Resourceful Zaire shamefully ignored

Amii Omara-Otunnu is a history professor at the University of Connecticut and a researcher with Norway's International Peace Research Institute. In a recent commentary he says that Zaire is a land of potential wealth that the world ignores at its peril and to its shame.

Omara-Otunnu writes: "Apart from considerations of mineral resources, strategic position, security and stability, there are issues of principle in the current struggle for power in Zaire, and these should be of moral concern to the international community.

"The first is the principle of territorial integrity, and of noninterference in the internal affairs of another state, both of which are enshrined in the U.N. charter. In the conflict in Zaire, troops from Uganda, Angola and Rwanda have participated on the side of the rebels; other countries have provided logistical and material support. The second is the principle of humanitarian law and human rights."

The commentary continues: "The third principle is that of democracy. Western countries in general and the United States in particular have not called unequivocally for a democratic solution to the conflict." It concludes: "The issues of principle raised by the conflict in Zaire should not be sacrificed on the altar of short-term calculations. Now is the time for the United States, the only global superpower, to demonstrate moral leadership and stand firm for democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Corrupt dictatorship smothers Zaire

Kurt Kister comments today that Zaire's promise has been smothered by three decades of corrupt dictatorship. He says the prospects are only for more of the same. Kister writes: "This country on the great river (is) rich in all sorts of precious metals and other mineral resources. Agriculture could flourish here too." He says: "Some 14,000 km of the River Zaire (formerly the Congo) and its many tributaries are navigable; this would be a wonderful traffic network supplying the country and its nine neighboring states. What is more, the giant river harbors enormous potential for hydro-electric power and long-distance irrigation for all its neighbors."

Kister writes: "Since 1965, when military chief Mobutu Sese Seko came to power by a putsch with the aid of the CIA, the country has been turned into 'Mobutu and Son,' a family firm which has run the economy along the motto income equals profit equals family profit.' " he says: "The system of autocratic centralism is disintegrating under the onslaught of a disparate rebel alliance. The militias, for whom Laurent Kabila is currently acting as chief, are being held together by one aim: down with Mobutu."

The commentary concludes: "Unfortunately, Zaire is clearly a case for lasting chaos. Kabila does not fit the modernizing trend, even if some things link him biographically with Museveni. Rather, Kabila represents a particular type of the first post-colonial era: the eternal guerrilla."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Kinshasa doesn't know whether to cheer or fear the rebels

As Mobutu's troops fade before Kabila's advancing rebels, the demoralized soldiers, anticipating defeat, reportedly are looting, raping and killing civilians. In a news analysis today in the U.S. newspaper, Judith Matloff writes from the capital Kinshasa that citizens there don't know whether to cheer or fear the rebels. She says: "Many Kinshasa residents have had enough of Mobutu's corrupt rule and the unpaid soldiers who have terrorized them with impunity. Others are unsure what rebel rule will bring, but are willing to give Kabila the benefit of the doubt."

WASHINGTON POST: Mandela strives to mend Zaire

Lynn Duke said yesterday in a news analysis that South African President Nelson Mandela was striving to arrange a cease-fire and a way to end Mobutu's rule with remnants of dignity for the ill dictator. Duke wrote: "Mobutu and Kabila -- the chief adversaries in a bitter six-month-old conflict -- were brought together by (Mandela) for negotiations at which the two rivals presented differing plans to end the fighting, and then agreed to meet again within ten days."

She said: "The two leaders' proposals appeared to differ mainly on the timing and manner of Mobutu's departure. Kabila said Mobutu should cede power to a transitional authority composed of rebel leaders, after which a cease-fire would be declared. But Mobutu wanted an immediate truce followed by formation of a transitional body that would organize elections. Mobutu said he would then hand over authority to an elected president."

Duek wrote: "The protocol for Mobutu's political eclipse has become less important in recent days as Kabila's forces have pressed ever closer to Kinshasa -- which analysts say they are capable of taking at any time. Mobutu, who has prostate cancer, seems now to face the choice of relinquishing power voluntarily or being forced to do so at the point of a gun."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Zaire shadows other crises spots in Africa

Former U.S. Congressman Harry Johnston and Congressional Research Service analyst Ted Dagne contend in a commentary in today's that the international community should not allow the focus on Zaire to deflect attention needed by other African crisis spots. They point specifically to Sudan. They write: "While the international community remains focused on the Zaire crisis, Africa's longest running civil war appears to be coming to an end. The recent humiliating defeat of government forces in southern Sudan and along the Ethiopia and Eritrea border is likely to bring an end to the suffering of civilians in southern Sudan and the demise of the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Khartoum. Unfortunately, this promising development has largely been ignored by policy makers and the mainstream news media.

"The attention given to Zaire is encouraging, but what about Sudan?

"An estimated 1.5 million people have died over the past ten years in southern Sudan, and millions have been displaced from their homes and villages. Despite evidence of slavery, human rights abuses, and support for terrorism, the international community hasn't been able to take firm measures against the National Islamic Front (NIF) government. Some governments are even flirting with the NIF regime -- eager to win business concessions. Since the ouster of the democratically elected government in 1989, Sudan, Africa's largest country, has emerged as a hub for terrorist activities and a safe haven for terrorist figures such as Osama bin-Laden, the Saudi-born financier of extremist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere."