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Angolan Armor Divisions Join Rebel Drive Toward Kinshasa

By Thomas W. Lippman
The Washington Post

Troops from Angola equipped with armored vehicles and heavy artillery have joined Zairian rebel forces pushing steadily toward Kinshasa in what appears to be the final drive to unseat President Mobutu Sese Seko, U.S. officials and reports from Zaire said Thursday.

The accelerating rebel advance - the Reuter news agency said government troops fled the river town of Kenge, only 150 miles east of the capital - has led to a widely shared assessment that Mobutu's fall from power is imminent, the U.S. officials said. As a result, the focus of diplomatic efforts is now on minimizing the bloodshed when the forces of rebel leader Laurent Kabila enter Kinshasa.

"At this stage the objective would be to arrange a cessation of hostilities, Mobutu stepping down and some kind of arrangement that would lead to elections," White House national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said at a meeting Thursday. "I don't know if that's feasible or not."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, was in Luanda, Angola, Thursday night, still trying to arrange a meeting between Mobutu and Kabila that would lead to an orderly transfer of power. With troops in Zaire and a stake in the outcome, Angola has become a key player whose restraint will be required if bloodshed is to be minimized, U.S. officials said.

Several thousand former Zairian paramilitary policemen and their sons from the province of Shaba, formerly Katanga, who have been living in Angola for many years, are advancing through south-central Zaire toward the capital, several sources said. These forces wore Angolan army uniforms and had Angolan equipment including armored personnel carriers and long-range cannons, reports from the region said.

Regular Angolan troops also have massed in the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, north of Zaire's narrow western neck, but U.S. officials said they could not confirm reports that these troops have crossed into Zaire.

The Angolans want to get rid of Mobutu because for years he supported Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. "They want to see Mobutu go, but they are also interested in how he goes" because large-scale violence could spill over and disrupt their country, a U.S. official said.

Kabila said again Thursday that the only purpose of a meeting with Mobutu would be to set the terms for Mobutu's departure. Mobutu has agreed to the meeting but it was not clear Thursday night when it would be held, if at all, U.S. officials said. Mobutu, weakened by prostate cancer, failed to show up Thursday for a flight to Pointe Noire, a port in neighboring Congo where he was expected to board a South African naval vessel for the meeting with Kabila.