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US waives ban on Zairean visits; incites Mobutu critics.

NEW YORK -- The Clinton administration used a visit by one of Zaire's most notorious violators of human rights to intensify criticism of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, holding him "responsible for a situation which puts at risk the lives and welfare of millions of his countrymen, and the stability of an entire region."

Yet, Washington angered human rights advocates by giving a U.S. visa to an envoy they hold responsible for a March 1992 massacre of dozens of peaceful church-led protesters and other political murder and torture episodes.

The administration urged Mobutu to stop resisting democratic transition plans adopted at a national conference led by Catholic Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, but stopped short of calling for Mobutu's departure from office or endorsing anti-Mobutu sanctions proposed in Congress.

To meet with Ngbanda Nzambo-Ko-Atumba, Mobutu's chief security adviser, Washington temporarily waived President Clinton's executive order banning U.S. visits by Mobutu associates, which was unveiled last month as an anti-Mobutu sanctions measure. Ngbanda brought the State Department Mobutu's response to an American appeal, handed to Mobutu by Assistant Secretary of State George Moose at a late June Organization for African Unity meeting in Cairo, for action to end the political stalemate.

State Department sources said his visit gave them a chance to directly tell Mobutu's Praetorian Guard, in which Ngbanda is a key figure, that the West will not tolerate further resistance to political change. Meeting Ngbanda was wrong, responds John Metzel, Zaire specialist at the Washington Office on Africa, because "no free amnesty should treat with mass murderers." Metzel predicted that Ngbanda will use the visa ban waiver to claim Washington is wavering on anti-Mobutu action.

A former defense minister, Ngbanda has headed several of Zaire's most brutal security agencies. "Aside from Mobutu himself, no single individual has played a more visible role in-obstructing the democratic transition" than Ngbanda, the human rights group Africa Watch said last year.

According to Africa Watch, Ngbanda participated in a military assault on unarmed civilians during a Feb. 16, 1992, Kinshasa demonstration by Catholic pro-democracy demonstrators. Africa Watch and other human rights groups said that at least 33 people, and possibly twice as many, were killed when soldiers fired on the prayerful group of unarmed demonstrators.

During an interview at his suite in the ultraluxurious Towers section of New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Ngbanda told NCR that demonstrator violence provoked security forces and that no more than 12 people were killed. He further asserted that he was "not involved, neither closely nor remotely, in any decision with respect to this march."

However, Africa Watch quoted eyewitness testimony indicating that he personally ordered the arrest of a Catholic priest and that he told soldiers to set one protest leader on fire.

As Ngbanda arrived in the United States July 18, Mobutu intensified verbal assaults against his political rivals, telling listeners at a rally in Zaire's Shaba province to "punish" the opposition. The speech follows a wave of ethnic violence in Shaba, provoked by Mobutu according to independent observers, which has forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes.

While Ngbanda visited Washington, a U.N. special envoy was in Zaire, to explore "ways and means" that the United Nations can help end Zaire's political impasse. However, church sources say Mobutu has ignored other recent appeals for peace, including a July 7 letter from Monsengwo Pasinya, president of Zaire's transitional parliament, who asked Mobutu to stop blocking political change.

Ngbanda's visit is merely the latest in a series of mixed and conflicting signals sent to Zaire from Washington. Clinton administration officials have hinted since early February that they will support an international freeze on Mobutu's assets, believed to be worth billions of dollars, but have taken no visible action.

Stranger still is the U.S. government's failure to act effectively against a senior Mobutu adviser who helped organize Ngbanda's visit while in the United States as an illegal alien. In May, the State Department revoked the visa of Adeito Nzengeya Bagbeni, Mobutu's self-styled ambassador to the United Nations, after finding that he lacked valid U.N. accreditation and that his two wives had been in the United States without proper visas since 1991.

Yet, Bagbeni remains at Zaire's U.N. mission and, identifying himself as ambassador, organized press interviews with Ngbanda last week. The State Department said it has asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to expel Bagbeni.

Diplomatic sources say that Bagbeni attempted to enlist the support of two U.S. businessmen with long links to Zaire in Mobatu's latest diplomatic maneuvers. However, the two businessmen, New york diamond dealer Maurice Tempelsman and New Jersey leasing company official Grover Connell, both denied the reports. Connell and a Tempelsman spokesman told NCR they are no longer actively involved in Zairean political affairs.
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Title Annotation:relations with Mobutu Sese Seko
Author:Collins, Carole; Askin, Steve
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 30, 1993
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