April 8, 1997 in Nation/World

Zairean Soldiers Join Rebels

New York Times

In the most dramatic setback for the Zairian government in a calamitous six-month civil war, troops in the country’s second-largest city on Monday laid down their arms and declared common cause with rebels advancing on the city.

With the rebels reported less than 20 miles west of the city, Lubumbashi, deserting soldiers of the 21st Brigade donned white scarves in a sign of surrender and declared that they would fight any government forces who attempted to stop the rebels.

While Lubumbashi teetered toward rebel hands, army units still loyal to Zaire’s longtime dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, fought running battles in Kinshasa with thousands of student protesters who called for the president’s ouster.

Elsewhere in the capital, hundreds of students surrounded armored personnel carriers of Mobutu’s Presidential Guard, immobilizing the vehicles as they slapped their metal sides with bare hands and harangued the soldiers to help them sweep Mobutu from power.

Many of the soldiers appeared to sympathize with the students, and merely went through the motions of trying to shoo them away.

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