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Zaire Reportedly Profiting by Selling Arms to Angolan Rebels

By James Rupert
The Washington Post
KINSHASA, Zaire

Although Zaire is at war and neighboring Angola is struggling to preserve peace, close relatives and aides of Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko have been smuggling hundreds of tons of weapons to former rebels in Angola for huge profits, according to Zairians, foreign diplomats and intelligence reports.

The Mobutu camp's rearmament of Angola's UNITA movement is contributing to Zaire's military collapse in the face of a five-month-old rebellion, Zairians and diplomats said, and has increased the likelihood of civil war in Angola.

The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, and the Angolan government signed a peace accord in 1994 after 19 years of almost unbroken civil war. UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi, has spent the last year demobilizing its fighters and surrendering its weapons, though the government has accused it of retaining its strongest forces, and efforts to form a unity government repeatedly have fallen short of their goal.

For months, Mobutu's aides have been purchasing loads of weapons for UNITA on international arms markets, while Zairian army commanders have complained openly that the government is giving it few weapons and supplies to fight rebels in the east who are seeking to oust Mobutu. The army chief of staff, Gen. Mahele Lieko, told reporters Wednesday that the government should let the army take over arms purchases and distribution. Recently, some of Mahele's troops clashed here with soldiers loyal to a Mobutu aide over a trainload of ammunition, sources said.

Last month, the Angolan government retaliated for the shipments to UNITA by sending troops to help the Zairian rebels, diplomats and U.N. sources have said.

The Mobutu camp's arms trading "has been a serious destabilizing factor" throughout central Africa, a Western diplomat here said. The arms traffic is directed by at least five of Mobutu's closest security aides, including a son, and at least one Western intelligence service concludes that Mobutu gets a share of the profits, another diplomat said.

The arms smuggling to UNITA is part of a practice by Mobutu and his family "of selling guns anywhere they can make a buck," the Western diplomat said.