Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-AFRICA: Mobutu Officers Finally Find A Home

Melvis Dzisah

ABIDJAN, May 8 1998 (IPS) - Four top military officers in the former Zairean government of the late Mobutu Sese Seko have finally found a place of asylum after shuffling through a number of countries for about a year.

The four, who had appealed for, but were denied asylum in Cote d’Ivoire — the last stop in their travels — have been welcomed by the Republic of Niger, IPS learned Friday.

“Everything is in order, so they should be leaving Abidjan today (Friday) for Niamey, where they are expected to be welcomed by the Ministry of the Interior,” according to Kassim Diagne of The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) in Abidjan.

Generals Ettiene N’Zimbi and Kpara Baramoto, Admiral Mudima Mavua and Colonel Paul Mudende Mokombo fled from the capital of the former Zaire, Kinshasa, and initially took refuge in South Africa, when the rebel forces of Laurent Desire Kabila, now President, took over the country last May. Kabila renamed the country The Democratic Republic of Congo.

The officers’ attempt to secure political asylum in South Africa was, however, rejected, because of that country’s ties with the new regime of Kabila.

“South Africa did not want to disturb its relations with Kinshasa by taking the four in, because it has huge business interests in that country,” one West African diplomat told IPS in Abidjan.

The four officers were forced to leave South Africa in February. They came to Cote d’Ivoire where they intended to seek political asylum, but they were turned down here too.

They then went to Mali, where President Alpha Konare, who faces problems with the opposition at home, refused to accept them.

On May 3, the four returned to Cote d’Ivoire using false identity papers. But they were arrested by Ivoirian police at Felix Houphouet-Boigny airport in Abidjan.

Abidjan already hosts hundreds of refugees from Congo (Brazzaville), and diplomats say the Ivoirian leader, President Henri Konan Bedie, did not want to add the former Zairean officers to the crowd of political refugees.

Congolese President Sassou N’Guesso recently accused Cote d’Ivoire of allowing his opponents to use its territory to regroup for a possible offensive against him.

When the former Zairean military officers got caught sneaking back into the country, the Ivoirian authorities took a hard stance. “They should find another country to welcome them, if not, we shall send them back to South Africa, where they started their journey,” said Daniele Boni Claverie, a government spokesperson.

She gave them 24 hours to leave Ivoirian territory and directed that they should be kept at the airport hotel, pending their eventual departure.

The UNHCR intervened and asked the Ivoirian government to allow them to stay on “humanitarian” grounds until another country was prepared to accept them.

But while the UNHCR was scouting for a possible place of asylum, President Kabila, on hearing of the former officers’ plight, requested that they should return home. Now, however, Niger has agreed to accommodate them.

The late Mobutu who had ruled the former Zaire for more than 30 years went through a similar ordeal after he was ousted by Kabila’s forces. He finally found a home in Morocco, where he died from prostrate cancer and was buried last year.

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