May 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Zaire Rebel Leader Misses The Boat Reluctant Pres. Mobutu Sets Sail For Peace Talks, But This Time Rebel Representatives Fail To Show Up

Tina Susman Associated Press
 

Mediators finally got the grudging president of Zaire aboard a ship for peace talks Friday, only to find that his rebel enemy was balking.

Rebel leader Laurent Kabila said he wanted more safety guarantees and would decide today whether to attend the talks with President Mobutu Sese Seko after seeing a new security report from the South African officials organizing the meeting.

Kabila complained that the South Africans were concerned only with Mobutu’s safety. He also claimed he’d never received a formal invitation.

Kabila made the announcement to reporters in the Angolan capital of Luanda, hours after Mobutu and international mediators had boarded the South African navy ship at Pointe Noire, Congo.

When it became clear Kabila would not come, the ship returned to harbor. Mobutu disembarked to stay spend the night in Pointe Noire, while South African President Nelson Mandela and U.S. envoy Bill Richardson remained aboard, apparently to continue consultations.

Kabila’s apparent stalling tactic came a day after Mobutu himself hedged on attending the summit, failing to show up at the airport for a flight to the talks. Zairian officials blamed the delay on logistical problems.

Aziz Pahad, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, told reporters on the ship that he’s still hopeful the talks will go forward today.

Asked whether Kabila was playing games by not showing up, he replied: “With such international representation, I would hope that there are no games.”

Mediators fear the peace talks - the first face-to-face showdown between the two rivals - may be the last chance to prevent the rebels from forcibly taking the Zairian capital. Rebels of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire are only 250 miles from Kinshasa.


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