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Economic strain could help topple Mobutu: world diplomats plot to oust Zaire dictator.

NEW YORK -- Can economic sanctions force dictator Mobutu Sese Seko to relinquish his stranglehold on Zaire's 40 million people? That question is being asked around the world, from Kinshasa's hungry streets to Washington's corridors of power, as experts and political leaders coalesce around a package of carefully targeted economic pressures that could speedd the demise of Mobutu's "kleptocracy," or government of theft.

For the past month, diplomats from France, Belgium and the United States -- Mobutu's most important patrons in years past -- have been meeting to plot a joint strategy for dislodging Mobutu.

President Clinton ha already said, in a letter to Congressman Donald Payne (D-N.J.), that he would support unspectified "measures" pressing Mobutu to "immediately transfer effective authority to the transitional government and stop interfering" with its reform efforts.

"Getting rid of Mobutu won't be very difficult" if Western powers take though action against Mobutu and give the democracy movement "financial, diplomatic and political support," says Hamuli Kabarhuza, a member of Zaire's transitional parliament and close ally of its leader, Catholic Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

The biggest obstacle to action lies in the fact that broad sanctions will not touch Mobutu, because the dictator cares about almost nothing in Zaire beyond his ability to control the armed forces and exploit its resources for personal gain.

Mobutu's security forces have killed many opposition backers in recent months. In late February, they even held the transitional Parliment hostage for two days, cutting off food, water and medical support for 400 people barricaded inside its meeting hall.

Mobutu also appears to be treating government finance institution like personal property. Reports from Kinshasa suggest that Mobutu's family and friends have used the Central Bank to finance a diamond-smuggling operation involving up to $300 million a year in irregular exports.

A Congressional resolution drafted by Payne directly confronts the obstacles by proposing sanctions targeted against Mobutu and the institutions he controls, not the Zairian people.

It urges Clinton to immediately freeze Mobutu's bank accounts and those of his family and associates, ban issuance of visas for Mobutu and his entourage and expel Mobutu's ambassador from the United States.

These actions would be largely symbolic, since Mobutu rarely visits the United States and almost certainly keeps most of his multibillion-dollar personal fortune in Europe. However, U.S. action would encourage similar moves by U.S. allies with greater access to the Mobutu fortune.

If Mobutu still refuses to ease his grip on power, the Payne plan envisions further actions targeted against Mobutu's power centers.

These next steps would include Zaire's suspension of Zaire from the IMF and the World Bank, isolating the Mobutu Central Bank; an arms embargo; and a ban on imports from Zaire, but no corresponding restrictions on shipments of goods to Zaire.

Payne's one-way trade restrictions could block Zairian mineral exports -- long used by Mobutu for personal gain -- without affecting shipments of food, medicine and other basic commodities needed by Zairins, especially urban dwellers, pushed to the brink of starvation by Mobutu's looting of the economy.

The plan's final and most controversial plank says the United State, France and Belgium should seek U.N. approval for a military mission to disarm Mobutu's foces if all other measures fail.

Sister of Notre Dame Maura Browne, who heads the Africa Faith and Justice Network, agrees that humanitarian intervention could be needed but says the United States, France and Belgium are the wrong countries to do it because "they have exploited that country so badly." IF a U.N. intervention is needed, she argues. any peacemaking force shoul be led by African forces whose presence would not raise the specter of "neocolonialism."
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Askin, Steve
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Mar 19, 1993
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