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Togo prods Mobutu to move on _ but to where?

May 21, 1997 GMT

LOME, Togo (AP) _ Morocco’s nice. Or how about France?

With Mobutu Sese Seko wearing out his welcome in Togo _ not that he was ever invited _ the west African nation was prodding the newly deposed Zairian dictator Tuesday to take his exile down the road.

Mobutu’s very presence on Togo soil is ``an insult to the Togolese people,″ the opposition Le Regard newspaper scolded the government, Mobutu’s reluctant host.

Mobutu and his immediate family have been staying in borrowed digs at an otherwise unused mansion of President Gnassingbe Eyadema since Sunday, when Mobutu fled his jungle palace in Zaire just ahead of Laurent Kabila’s rebel forces.


Kabila’s fighters came close enough to fire on Mobutu’s departing plane _ not the posh private jet the proud Mobutu normally travels in, but a shabby, Soviet-made cargo plane.

Mobutu’s departure sealed the victory of the rebels, who have renamed Zaire as Congo, leaving Mobutu a man without a country and without many friends.

Eyadema, long a crony of Mobutu, went to Mobutu’s temporary quarters on Monday to try to pin down when he would be leaving Togo, most likely for Morocco or France, government officials said.

Security guards at the residence said they have been posted there only through Wednesday, indicating that’s when Eyadema wants Mobutu and his entourage gone.

Mobutu’s son, Kongulu, and another 100 family members arrived in Togo on a regular commercial flight on Monday, after Gabon turned away a jet carrying the family.

An unhappy-looking Kongolu ran into reporters in Lome on Tuesday. Asked what his status was, Kongulu told The Associated Press: ``I’m a captain in an army in retreat.″

Senior Mobutu aides and security personnel also are in Lome.

Authorities here ``barely tolerate″ the Zairian exiles, who came completely unannounced, an aide to the Togo president said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

``Everyone _ including President Eyadema _ was surprised,″ the official said.

Eyadema apparently was embarrassed, too: the first reports of Mobutu’s arrival on state-run television described it as a ``stopover″ en route to parts unknown. It was only later that it became clear that Mobutu had stayed in Lome.

Currently, government sources say, Mobutu is insisting to Eyadema that his departure from Togo be more dignified than his arrival. This time, no cargo plane.

Mobutu argues that his advanced prostate cancer _ Eyadema’s aide described him as looking ``in really bad shape, very weakened″ _ means he needs a more comfortable plane for a long trip.

The key question is: a trip to where?

Like many dictators before him around the world, Mobutu’s fall from power brought him overnight unpopularity, making him a potential political problem for any country that accepts his exile.

Moroccan officials have said Mobutu is headed there but would be welcome only for a short stay en route to France, where he owns a lavish villa on the Riviera.

Mobutu also owns properties in Switzerland, Belgium and South Africa. But Switzerland has frozen his assets, and Belgium and South Africa have been quick to embrace Kabila.

France, cool to Kabila, is the most likely address. But France denies that Mobutu has even requested asylum. The French government reportedly would prefer him to delay his arrival until after elections at the end of this month.

President Jacques Chirac could face voter anger if his government accepts a man whom much of the world has come to regard as a despot who plundered his country’s riches.

France already is giving haven to Jean-Claude Duvalier, forced into exile in 1986 by a popular uprising that ended his family’s reign in Haiti.

Africa’s most reviled dictator, Idi Amin, was ousted from Uganda in 1979 and now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Mobutu’s plight is his ``grand humiliation,″ editorialized the Togolese opposition newspaper, Le Combat. ``The end of this dictator’s bloody reign is an example other African dictators should take to heart.″