French Envoy in Zaire Killed as Troops Rampage
France’s ambassador to Zaire was killed by a stray bullet Thursday during a looting rampage by soldiers in Kinshasa, the French Foreign Ministry said.
A bullet fired through his office window killed 61-year-old Philippe Bernard, the ministry said in Paris, citing preliminary information from its embassy in the Zairian capital. Bernard was posted to Zaire in December.
Residents of Kinshasa said roving bands of soldiers fired guns in the air and looted shops and foreigners’ homes, sending hundreds of people fleeing from the city center. French officials said some of the roughly 1,000 French citizens in Kinshasa had taken refuge in the embassy compound.
Diplomats reached by telephone said gunfire could still be heard, and they were deluged with calls for help from their nationals.
Looting by unpaid troops in late 1991 spread across Zaire and left at least 100 people dead. Belgium sent paratroopers to evacuate more than 20,000 foreigners from this sprawling Central African nation.
Foreign Minister Willy Claes of Belgium, Zaire’s former colonial ruler, said soldiers were angry because they were being paid in new 5-million-zaire bank notes, printed to keep up with hyper-inflation.
The note, introduced by President Mobutu Sese Seko over the objections of the country’s transitional government, has come to symbolize his continuing control of the former Belgian Congo.
The interim government has declared the notes worthless, and shopkeepers refuse to accept them.
Mobutu, who has ruled for more than a quarter-century, has refused to step down or hand over control of the treasury to the government of Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi.
Mobutu retains the loyalty of the military, but the collapse of the country’s economy has made its money virtually worthless.