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Zaire's democracy struggle tests church, Clinton.

NEW YORK - Despite its lush tropical clime, the central African nation of Zaire seems to be treading the path of drought-stricken Somalia and winter-bound ex-Yugoslavia as violence rises and government rule disintegrates.

But with one important twist: Civil society is increasingly united in demanding the ouster of Zaire's sole warlord, Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko.

Reports now indicate that more than 1,000 people may have been killed in late January when pro-Mobutu armed units used heavy weapons against unpaid Zairian soldiers who had begun a more deadly replay of their September 1991 mutiny and looting over intolerable living conditions.

Reports now suggest that pro-Mobutu forces deliberately used the pretext of restoring order to kill opposition leaders and attack military units considered loyal to Tshisekedi. Troops under Mobutu's command, reportedly carrying lists of targeted activists, used heavy artillery and armoured cars to attack and later loot the homes and offices of pro-democracy activists. Many pro-democracy leaders are in hiding, and the final death toll is not yet known. A representative of Tshisekedi's government-in-waiting, on an early January visit to Washington, D.C., had told NCR that it feared Mobutu would use U.S. preoccupation with the transition to a new administration to move against pro-democracy leaders with deadly force.

The Catholic church, which has played an increasingly important mediating role since the opening of national debate on a transition to democracy in 1990, itself fell victim to the latest fighting.

Several religious communities - including the Jesuits, the Religious of the Sacred Heart, the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart and the Salesian Sisters of the Visitation - have been attacked and churches pillaged, reportedly by pro-Mobutu troops. Unconfirmed reports indicate that several religious, Zairian and foreign, have been raped.

Since the national dialogue on a transition to democracy began in 1990, the Catholic church has worked to mediate a peaceful transition between pro-Mobutu and democratic forces.

Arcbbishop Pasinye Monsengwo, currently president of the High Council of the Republic, worked tirelessly last year, despite increasing criticism of his efforts, to try to win Mobutu's acquiescence in the process. The HCR is a broad-based interim legislative body overseeing the installation of democratic governance in Zaire.

But even he suspended such efforts after Mobutu attempted once again to dismiss Tshisekedis interim government late last year. The standoff between Mobutu and the HCR has deepened in the intervening weeks.

In mid-January, it began moves to legally impeach Mobutu for flouting its decisions and pro-democracy forces organized a week of strikes.

Mobutu's corruption remains a prime obstacle to foreign aid for Zaire's fraying economy. Virtually all of Mobutu's former external backers - including the United States, Belgium and France - have suspended aid to Zaire until Mobutu is denied all access to public coffers.

The latest violence and the recent departure of long time Mobutu supporter George Bush from office will likely intensify demands that Mobutu step down. Although Zaierian democratic forces have urged external intervention to overthrow Mobutu, this is unlikely given major international crises elsewhere.

In January, the European Parliament passed a resolution asking member states to freeze all bank accounts and other assets belonging to Mobutu and his cronies, arguing that they have been stolen from the Zairian people. Last week, the Africa Faith and Justice Network issued an action alert urging the Clinton administration to send a strong message to Mobutu by doing the same.

Missionhurst Father Jim Fishlow concurred. "President Clinton has to be much more direct in saying we support not only the process of democracy in Zaire but also the people involved in that process," he told NCR.
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Author:Collins, Carole
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Feb 12, 1993
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