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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zaire Soldiers Loot Diamond Center

KINSHASA, Zaire -- Government soldiers looted Zaire's diamond center of Mbuji-Mayi on Tuesday, an official at the state-owned mining company said.


The report came after rebels said they would move toward the Eastern Kasai province, of which Mbuji-Mayi is the capital. The rebel advance across eastern Zaire has been made easier by the lack of discipline among Zaire's poorly paid soldiers, who have repeatedly looted towns and fled rather than fight.


The official of the MIBA mining company, speaking on condition of anonymity, could not say Tuesday whether the rebels were near Mbuji-Mayi. In a brief phone call, he provided few details of the situation in the city, located about 1,000 kilometers east of Kinshasa, the nation's capital.


Mbuji-Mayi is the hub of Zaire's lucrative diamond mining industry.


After capturing Kisangani, Zaire's third largest city, over the weekend, the rebels said their next immediate target was Lubumbashi, the second largest city and capital of cobalt- and copper-rich Shaba province. The rebels also spoke of pushing south into Kasai province and west to President Mobutu Sese Seko's hometown of Gbadolite and on to Kinshasa if their terms were not met.


The rebels have agreed in principle to a cease-fire, but only if Mobutu first meets with their leader, Laurent Kabila. Mobutu, hospitalized in Europe after surgery for prostate cancer, has refused a meeting.


Rebels accuse the 66-year-old Mobutu of robbing his country to enrich himself. The Mobutu regime appears weaker than it has ever been in its 31 years in power, undermined in part by the absence of its charismatic chief.


Residents of the capital have been fleeing by plane and boat in recent days.


Ida Victorine Nze, president of the Red Cross in neighboring Congo, said members of Mobutu's family were among those to leave, arriving in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville on Monday. She did not say how many of the president's relatives had fled.


A diplomatic source, speaking in Brazzaville on condition of anonymity, said several U.S. citizens also had taken shelter in Congo, fearful that anti-American rhetoric in Zaire could lead to violence. Zaireans have accused the United States of doing too little to stop the fighting, or of even supporting the rebels.


Mobutu's top military aides have held several day-long, closed-door sessions since the weekend. Diplomatic sources said his generals were debating whether to attempt a coup. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.


Prime Minister Leon Kengo wa Dondo flew to Kenya on Tuesday for an international meeting on the crisis in Zaire.


Mobutu's son, Nzanga Mobutu, said Tuesday that the president was well enough to walk around his hospital room and would soon return to Zaire.


But a source in Monaco, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said Mobutu was in serious but stable condition and suffering from internal bleeding due to complications from his cancer.


Asked about the chaotic situation in Zaire, Nzanga Mobutu said:


"That's why it is important to see him on his feet, speaking."


The streets of Kinshasa were rife with rumors that Mobutu was dead and the military was plotting to take over the government.


Government spokesman Jean-Claude Biebie Ekalabo called on Kinshasans to remain calm and disregard "fantastical rumors."


There was great concern in the capital that if Mobutu dies or the army attempts a coup, riots would break out among soldiers and civilians.


Riots in 1991 and 1993 killed hundreds of people and destroyed many businesses.


In New York, the UN Security Council met Monday to discuss the deteriorating situation in Zaire.


Council President Zbigniew Wlosowicz said members were concerned about the humanitarian situation and urged the combatants to allow aid workers to reach those in need.