1,000 Reported Dead in Zaire Rebellion
Presidential forces sealed off the center of the capital Monday following days of fighting with rebellious army soldiers that claimed at least 1,000 lives, the transition government said Monday.
Foreigners and Zairians packed riverboats and roads Monday to flee escalating battles.
Jean Joseph Mukendi, spokesman for Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi, said: “The estimates that we have allow us to confirm there were at least 1,000 dead. They were mostly soldiers.”
Western diplomats earlier said hundreds of people had died when President Mobutu Sese Seko’s presidential guard put down a mutiny by army troops.
Mobutu has accused Tshisekedi of treason, saying he caused the violence by urging soldiers to refuse to accept newly printed 5-million-zaire bank notes. The troops mutinied after shopkeepers refused the notes.
There was no way to verify the death toll.
In Brussels, Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes said at least 300 people were believed killed after Mobutu sent in special forces to suppress riots by regular army troops. Claes said the toll could be much higher.
In Kinshasa, a soldier lay dead in a puddle of rainwater near a main boulevard, evidence of four days of riots and factional fighting. Pedestrians ignored the corpse.
The violence has spiraled into a power struggle between troops loyal to Mobutu and those supporting Zaire’s democracy movement.
A statement read on state TV Monday night on behalf of Mobutu said that anyone refusing to accept the new notes would be guilty of treason and that new 10-million-zaire notes would soon be introduced. Ten million zaires would be worth about $4.
Zaire’s impoverished economy has collapsed, but Mobutu has refused to cede control of the treasury, military or other key institutions to the transitional government of Tshisekedi. Mobutu named the government under pressure from the United States, France and other aid donors.
Presidential guards blocked off the Gombe quarter, where hundreds of foreigners have sought refuge in ambassadorial residences.
About 500 Belgian, French and Italian refugees left Kinshasa on a riverboat Monday and crossed the Congo River to Brazzaville, Congo, under escort of presidential guards.
France and Belgium rushed troops to Brazzaville to evacuate foreigners after the French ambassador and six other foreigners were killed. Mobutu let French marines in, but denied permission to Belgium, saying Zaire’s former colonizer wanted to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.
Belgium said its paratroopers will stay in Brazzaville for now, but warned that it would use force if needed for an evacuation.
More than 1,000 foreigners were evacuated Sunday night.
Reports Monday said the trouble spread to eastern Zaire. A businessman arriving from the interior said troops were looting in Goma, an eastern town on the border with Rwanda.
North of Goma, about 600 refugees crossed into Uganda over the weekend, a U.N. spokesman said.
The unrest is the worst since Belgium and France sent soldiers in September, 1991, after riots by unpaid troops triggered evacuation of 20,000 foreigners.