Mobutu appears to accept vote against his PM


THE Zairean Prime Minister, Mr Leon Kengo wa Dondo, resigned yesterday, his party said. "The Prime Minister met the President ... and he was obliged to present his resignation," the secretary general of the Union of Independent Democrats said.

Earlier yesterday, President Mobutu Sese Seko had reportedly accepted the parliamentary vote which last week ousted his hand picked prime minister.

Clearly a power struggle is under way at a time when the government is trying to unite and deal with the rebel advance that has left much of eastern Zaire in rebel hands. Parliamentary leaders met Mr Mobutu yesterday and said he had accepted their vote a week ago to dismiss Mr Kengo. But a government spokesman said Mr Kengo remained prime minister.

"The opposition is going to name another prime minister," said Mr Valentin Mubake, the parliament speaker for the opposition. "Today, the head of state recognised the autonomy of the parliament regarding this question this is to say the fall of Mr Kengo and his government."

Mr Mobutu's private secretary confirmed that the president had accepted the vote announced on the Voice of Zaire radio. But a government spokesman, Mr Jean Claude Biebie Ekalabo, denied the report. Announcements on state radio and television that Mr Mobutu had "taken note" of a vote last week to oust Mr Kengo were taken by some to mean the president had accepted Mr Kengo's ouster.

The resignation came a day after Mr Mobutu emerged from seclusion and returned from Europe, promising that he would make clear "within 48 hours" his plans to reunite the country.

Parliament had accused Mr Kengo of mishandling Zaire's crisis and of being soft on the Tutsi backed rebels, partly because his mother is a Rwandan Tutsi.

The Mobutu regime had initially rejected last week's vote to oust him, calling it unconstitutional because two thirds of the parliament members were not present.

Supporters of Mr Etienne Tshisekedi, longtime Mobutu foe, say he should take over as prime minister and begin talks with the rebels.

Mr Kabila said at the weekend his forces were just 250 km from Lubumbashi, Zaire's second largest city. The rebels have said they will stop fighting only after Mr Mobutu holds direct talks with Kabila. Mr Mobutu has refused.

Yesterday Belgium started airlifting paratroopers to Zaire, ready to evacuate Belgian citizens from its former colony.

Operation Green Stream, the sixth of its kind since Zairean independence in 1960, will fly 550 Belgian soldiers to Brazzaville, the Congo capital, which lies across the Zaire river from the capital Kinshasa. US troops there were preparing for the possible evacuation of Americans. About 500 US civilians live in Zaire, about 320 of them in Einshasa.

Meanwhile the US State Department confirmed a "joint initiative" to resolve the crisis was being launched by French and US ambassadors. A two day summit on the crisis opens tomorrow in Lome, Togo.