Mobutu, Opposition Agree to Coalition Government in Zaire
President Mobutu Sese Seko and opposition leaders agreed Saturday to form a coalition government after five days of rioting that led French and Belgian troops to evacuate foreigners.
It was the first time in Mobutu’s 26 years of iron-fisted rule that he has agreed to share power with the opposition in the central African country. The collapse of the former Belgian colony’s economy, brought on in part by widespread corruption, weakened his grip on power.
France, another former colonial power that plays a major role on the continent, said it has refused to provide aid unless Mobutu agrees to the new government.
More talks are scheduled for today, when ministers are to be named for the so-called government of national crisis.
France began scaling back its military forces but indicated that it may leave troops in the country after the evacuation of Americans and other foreigners who wish to go. Hundreds continued to fly out Saturday.
The meeting at Mobutu’s marble presidential palace marked his first talks with the opposition since mutinous soldiers led bloody rioting Monday and Tuesday in Kinshasa that spread to other parts of the country.
At least 60 people died in Kinshasa, but the real figure could be three times higher. At least 1,750 people were injured, said the Paris-based relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders.
A French paratrooper was the only foreigner confirmed killed.
French and Belgians held key points of Kinshasa on Saturday, and the city was mostly calm. Kinshasa’s international airport, controlled by the European soldiers, reopened Friday to civilian traffic.
During his five-hour meeting with the opposition, Mobutu, 66, also agreed that a national conference on democratic reforms that broke up in acrimony earlier this month could reconvene Tuesday.
It was expected that Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the opposition group Union for Democracy and Social Progress, will be named prime minister today.
Tshisekedi, 58, was interior minister before Mobutu seized power in a military coup in 1965. He refused the job of prime minister when Mobutu offered it in July, saying it held no real power. But Saturday he said he would accept.
Mobutu has been under pressure from France to accept a transition government. French Ambassador Herni Rethore reiterated Saturday that France wants “a transition toward a better system of government, and a democratic system.”
The ambassador, who met twice with Mobutu in the past two days, told a news conference that economic aid to Zaire is impossible unless Mobutu accepts a new government. It must restore order, feed the population, and re-establish the trust of both the population and creditor nations, Rethore said.
France and Belgium, aided by U.S. military transport planes, have sent 1,750 soldiers to Zaire to evacuate foreign nationals. But Rethore indicated for the first time Saturday that France may leave a military detachment in the country for up to two weeks after foreigners are removed.
The French Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, announced the shipment of 40 tons of rice, cooking oil and flour to the capital of nearly 4 million people to ease food shortages. People are rummaging through garbage cans for food, and rice prices have tripled in a week.