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Death Toll Rises Above 30 in Zaire; U.S. Aids Airlift of Troops

September 25, 1991 GMT

BRAZZAVILLE, Congo (AP) _ Foreigners in Zaire jammed boats and planes today as European soldiers led evacuations from the nation, where military-led unrest reportedly has claimed at least 30 lives and injured more than 1,250 people.

In Washington, the Pentagon said it loaned several transport planes to France to help carry additional troops to Zaire after three days of riots.

More than 1,000 French and Belgian paratroopers are in Zaire to protect embassies and help foreigners flee. Both nations plan to send reinforcements.

About 25 Portuguese soldiers were ordered today to head to Zaire, but approval from the Zairean government was not immediately given, officials in Lisbon said.

Rioting and looting by mutinous Zairean soldiers subsided today in the capital, Kinshasa, but other areas were ″really tense,″ Belgian foreign affairs spokeswoman Francoise Gustin said.

France, meanwhile, pressed Zaire’s ruler for 26 years, Mobuto Sese Seko, to accept a multiparty democracy to ease opposition protests and the unrest, instigated by angry soldiers who had not been paid for several months.

A Brussels-based aid group, Doctors Without Borders, said today that between 1,250 and 1,750 people have been wounded in the Kinshasa area since Monday but that only 250 have been able to make it to hospitals.

The Belgian reports said one French paratrooper was among the more than 30 people killed.

Thousands of foreigners sought safety or escape routes from the former Belgian colony.

Some of the 7,000 Belgians living in Kinshasa were escorted by Belgian paratroopers across the Congo River to Brazzaville, the capital of Congo, said Ms. Gustin in Brussels, Belgium.

″With every crossing, the boats are full,″ she said. ″We encourage them to leave Kinshasa.″

More than 4,000 Belgians live outside Kinshasa, many in the mineral-rich area of Shaba. Some have fled to Zimbabwe and South Africa, she said.

France sent at least 150 more soldiers into Zaire today, bringing to 600 the number of troops in the nation. Several U.S. C-141 military transport planes have been loaned to France to ferry more soldiers, supplies and equipment to Zaire, French officials said.

″The sole purpose of this activity is to assist in the protection and evacuation of Americans and other foreigners,″ said a Pentagon statement. ″It does not constitute an involvement in the internal affairs of Zaire.″

Belgium also plans to send 500 more troops to Zaire, Defense Minister Guy Coeme said today.

State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher said government- controlled troops gained control of the road to the Kinshasa airport today, and the first charter flight for Americans is scheduled to leave Thursday.

Greece, Italy and Sweden also were planning to evacuate their citizens. A Swedish official in Stockholm said some homes of Swedes in Zaire were looted.

Mobutu, in a speech broadcast early today, said the pillaging would have ″grave repercussions″ for Zaire’s bankrupt economy. He claimed Kinshasa has been left without food or medicine.

Ms. Gustin said pillaging continued today in the southeastern cities of Likasi, Kamina and Kolwezi, and said the situation remained ″serious″ in Kinsangani in northeastern Zaire. Unrest in the capital was limited to ″sporadic pillaging,″ she said.

The spread of riots across the nation revived fears of the factional violence in the 1960s after the end of colonial rule. The fighting by regions seeking to break away from Kinshasa left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

Opposition leaders said Mobutu had incited the troops to mutiny in Kinshasa and other major cities to provoke intervention by Western forces. Twice in the 1970s Western troops intervened to keep Mobutu in power when dissident Zaireans attacked from Marxist-ruled Angola.

But French officials made clear Mobutu could not count on them this time.

The French defense minister, Pierre Joxe, reiterated his government’s support for a transition to multiparty democracy.

Mobutu, the last African dictator installed by the West during the Cold War, has managed to frustrate the trend toward democracy sweeping the continent.

After widespread unrest, Mobutu agreed in April 1990 to hand over power to a democratically elected government within a year. But no date for elections has been set, and a national conference that was to schedule them has broken up.

Opposition leaders, who boycotted the conference during most of the month that it met in Kinshasa, say Mobutu packed it with his supporters to make sure he could remain in power.

In Kinshasa, a 6 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew was being enforced, the South African diplomat, Herman Henekom, told South African radio.

He said that in addition to looting stores, ″the rioters really went for the houses (of expatriates). They cleaned out the houses and burned some of them ... But no one was physically molested.″