Threat of all-out war.

Author:Misser, Francois

The 'tiny' war which erupted in eastern Zaire last year looks set to be a long one. The new year has got off to a bad start for the Zairean troops as the rebels have continued to invade new territories including a number of mining concessions. FRANCOIS MISSER reports.

The long-awaited return of Zaire's President, Mobutu Sese Seko, to Kinshasa on the 17 December saw cheering crowds greet him at the airport. But the euphoria was somewhat artificial and the depth of support, perhaps thin. Many were members of the President's party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR), or civil servants who had received money for their transport, pro-Mobutu T-Shirts and wax prints. The remaining majority were waiting for a "fula fula" taxi to take them home, having turned up simply to see whether the President had recovered from his operation for prostate cancer last August.

At the Parliamentary level, few bothered to feign feelings for Mr Mobutu's return. Within days, he imposed a number of changes which left the opposition parties grumbling. Their discontent is symptomatic of the President's bid to reassert authority to his receding regime. Appointed as the new army Chief-of-Staff is General Mahele who, unlike his predecessor General Kpama Baramoto who had only just got the position in November 1996, has attended military academies and also gained some field experience in the second Shaba War and against the Rwandan Patriotic Army in October 1990.

The new Government thus has a narrower base than the former one. While Kengo wa Dondo remains Prime Minister, the main opposition parties, including Etienne Tshisekedi's 'orthodox' wing of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP) and its rival wing under the leadership of Frederic Kibassa Maliba, have been excluded alongside the Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans led by Gabriel Kyungu, the former Governor of Shaba.

Indeed, the High Council of the Republic-Transition Parliament (HCR-PT) formed in 1994 under the Transition Constitutional Act which was agreed upon by all parties at the time, is now little more than a de jure structure. In reality, Mr Mobutu is determined to call all the shots with Mr Kengo at his side.

The rebels of the Alliance of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) meanwhile, have continued to advance during the past few weeks. On 27 December they captured Bunia which lies some 40km away from the Ugandan border. Some testimonies report that...

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