Fighting has broken out in Shaba, the southern province of Zaire, for the second time in 14 months.
Fighting has broken out in Shaba, the southern province of Zaire, for the second time in 14 months. About 4,000 men of the National Liberation Front of the Congo -- a movement that opposes the government of President Mobutu Sese Seko -- are reported to have entered the province last Thursday night (11 May). Zaire's Ambassador in Paris admitted today (Monday) that they have captured the town of Mutshatsha, but he denied claims that the copper mining centre of Kolwezi has also fallen.
SYNOPSIS: Mutshatsha was captured by the rebels in last year's invasion -- but recaptured by government forces after about a month. President Mobutu went there immediately afterwards to see the situation at first hand, and encourage his troops. The attacks are a direct challenge to his government in a province that has a history of opposition to central authority in Zaire.
The Liberation Front are claiming to have inflicted heavy losses on the government forces. President Mobutu had asked the United States, Britain, France, Belgium and China for help. Last year, a thousand Moroccans, airlifted in by the French, took part in the drive against the rebels.
The Front's origins go back to the civil war in the Congo, after Katanga province seceded. Moise Tshombe declared it a separate state in 1960, two weeks after Belgium had granted the Congo independence. The United Nations intervened, at the request of the central government.
Several time, their forces were involved in major clashes with the Katangese. Eventually, the Katangan forces were disbanded. Some joined the regular Congolese army. Others disappeared into the bush, or fled into exile. It is these who have reappeared in Shaba, as katanga is now called.
Mr. Tshombe himself went to become Prime Minister of the Congo for more than a year -- till he himself was deposed and banished to exile in Europe. The man waiting to greet him was the Commander in Chief, General Mobutu-who took power a month after Mr. Tshombe's fall.
General Mobutu became President in 1965, when the country was seething in the aftermath of rebellions in the north and east. Ever since, ha has maintained strict control, which his opponents call dictatorship.
Kolwezi, the main target of the Liberation Front, is in the heart of Zaire' copper belt. Depression of the copper market has brought hardship to Shaba, which is adding to the unrest.
Last year, Zaire blamed Angola and Cuba -- alleging that Cuban soldiers in Angola had trained the rebel troops, and that the Soviet Union had armed them. This time, the Zaire news agency says the rebels came across the Zambian border, not the Angolan. But it says they again had the support of the Soviet Union and Cuba, and also of Algeria and the Libyan Jamahiriyah.
Plans for the invasion, it claims, were worked out in Havana and completed in Algiers -- and it says Cubans have been identified in the fighting at Mutshatsha.