June 4, 1997

Kabila's Congo says France arms Mobutu loyalists

By Matthew Tostevin KINSHASA, Zaire- President Laurent Kabila's Democratic Republic of Congo accused France Wednesday of providing arms to loyalists of ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko to destabilize the former Zaire. France rejected the charge.

``We have heard that the French contingent that was stationed in Brazzaville has provided arms to elements of the former FAZ (Zairean armed forces) and DSP (Mobutu's presidential guard) and that those arms will be shipped here to try and destabilize our country,'' Finance Minister Mawapanga Mwanananga told a news conference.

France, a long-time supporter of Mobutu, who held sway over the former Belgian colony, Africa's third largest country, for over three decades, dismissed the allegation.

``We deny this information formally and categorically,'' a French Embassy official told Reuters. ``Since this conflict began we have not provided any weaponry to Zaire in compliance with the European Union arms embargo and we are not about to start now.''

France, the United States, Britain, Belgium and Portugal deployed troops in Congo Brazzaville, a former French colony, during the final weeks of the seven-month civil war that brought Kabila to power in ex-Zaire in May.

The aim was to evacuate foreign nationals from Kinshasa in the event of serious bloodshed but the need did not arise. Some French troops have stayed on for presidential elections in Congo Brazzaville in July.

Congo Brazzaville's ambassador to Congo Kinshasa denied his country, dwarfed in territory and population by its neighbor to the south, would permit such traffic in arms.

``Congo Brazzaville cannot be a rear base to destabilize Democratic Congo,'' Ognamy Maurice told the news conference. He said a high-level delegation would go to Kinshasa to discuss the allegation.

Mawapanga, standing in for Foreign Minister Bizima Karaha who was at the Organization of African Unity summit in Zimbabwe, said there were 2,000 former members of Mobutu's presidential guard in Congo Brazzaville.

Kabila's administration has kept the River Congo border between Brazzaville and Kinshasa closed to formal traffic since its forces entered Kinshasa. Dug-out canoes cross the river, regularly carrying traders, and small planes fly between the two cities.