INTRODUCTION: The Soviet ambassador to France, Stefan Tchervonenko, finally met French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing in Paris on Thursday (14 April).
INTRODUCTION: The Soviet ambassador to France, Stefan Tchervonenko, finally met French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing in Paris on Thursday (14 April). The talks had been postponed as relations between Moscow and Paris became strained over French military aid to Zaire. Rebels invaded Zaire's Shaba province, formerly Katanga, last month, in an effort to overthrow the government of President Mobutu Sese Seko.
SYNOPSIS: The meeting, at the Elysee Paris, was supposed to have taken place on Tuesday, but it was suddenly postponed after the French president announced he was sending eleven transport aircraft to ferry Moroccan troops to help the Zaire government fight the rebels. The official purpose of Mr Tchervonenko's visit was to talk about Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev's planned visit to France in July.
At the same time, a spokesman for the organisation which claims to be behind the fighting in Zaire gave a news conference in Paris. The spokesman, for the Congo National Liberation Front, the FLNC, bitterly criticised France's military aid. He said President Giscard d'Estaing was hostile to his organisation, even though it was only fighting for Zaire's independence from President Mobutu's government. The invasion force has been widely reported to be largely former Katangese gendarmes who fought for the independence of Katanga in the early 1960s.
The widening international involvement in the conflict has drawn angry reaction from the Soviet Union, which has rejected as 'absurd' Zaire's claims that Moscow is behind the invasion. It says that the foreign aid Zaire has been receiving is 'in the hands of those who would like to create a new international problem'.
The rebels met little resistance when they crossed into Zaire from Angola. In the early stages of the fighting they captures several border towns. But on Thursday Zaire's army, reinforced by the 1,500 Moroccan troops, was reported to be preparing for a major counter offensive. One source said the troops were gathering about 220 miles (350 kilometres) east of the Angolan border and were preparing to push westwards to confront the insurgents.
The rebels are part of a controversial and often shadowy force that has fought under three flags in 16 years. It's generally believed they fought on both sides in the Angolan war as well as fighting for Katanga's independence in the early 1960s. Most of the group fled to Angola after the collapse of the Katanga secessionist attempt by the late Moise Tshombe movement.