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Government of Zaire Refuses United Nation's Call for Truce

By James Rupert
The Washington Post
KINSHASHA, Zaire

Zaire's government rejected a U.N. appeal for a truce in the war in eastern Zaire Monday and, vowing to crush the rebels there, dispatched warplanes to bomb at least one rebel-held town.

Three Zairian planes dropped bombs on Bukavu, on the border with Rwanda. Aid workers reached by telephone there reported that three planes dropped four bombs, including one that landed on the town's market. They said up to nine people were killed.

The attack was the first confirmed air raid by Zaire in the four-month-old war.

Zaire's Defense Ministry said its planes also bombed two towns west of Bukavu held by the rebels, who have seized a broad swath of the country, but there were no direct reports from the towns.

The bombing, plus a direct rebuff to a U.N. envoy seeking a truce, appeared to signal that President Mobutu Sese Seko has, for now, rejected advice from some of his supporters that he should negotiate with the rebels.

A Defense Ministry spokesman, Leon Kalima, said in Kinshasa that Zairian planes "delivered surgical strikes that struck only military targets." Brenda Barton, of the U.N. World Food Program's office in Bukavu, said, however, that one bomb there hit the town's market and another landed about 50 yards from her office.

Kalima said planes also bombed at Shabunda, and on the outskirts of Walekale, where government forces have been fighting to halt a rebel thrust toward Kisangani, the largest city in eastern Zaire.

Foreign Minister Gerard Kamanda wa Kamanda reiterated the Zairian government's rejection of negotiations as he prepared to meet the U.N. special envoy, Muhammad Sahnoun, who is visiting Kinshasa to press his call for a cease-fire.

"The government stresses that it cannot accept a cease-fire with unidentified belligerents," Kamanda said.

Zaire insists that there is no real rebellion, but that a few Zairians, including rebel leader Laurent Kabila, are serving as a cover for an invasion by troops from neighboring Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Kamanda said Zaire would accept a truce signed by those nations if it included a withdrawal of their forces from Zaire. The three states have denied they have troops in Zaire, but Western diplomats said intelligence reports have shown conclusively that Ugandan and Rwandan troops are fighting in the country.

Kabila, the rebel leader, has sworn to topple Mobutu, who has ruled Zaire for more than 30 years. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi have had long-standing grievances with Mobutu, largely over his sheltering of ethnic Hutu fighters, including those who fled Rwanda after conducting a genocide campaign against minority Tutsis in 1994.

After Mobutu entered a Swiss hospital last year for treatment of prostate cancer, Kabila launched a rebellion that, with startling speed, seized nearly the entire eastern border of the country. The rebels - who Western diplomats say are getting trucks, uniforms and weapons from Uganda and Rwanda - are pressing toward Kisangani, the commercial hub and military stronghold of northeastern Zaire.

In part, the anti-Mobutu force wants Kisangani because it has eastern Zaire's only major airfield, the one from which Monday's bombing raids were launched. Some analysts have suggested that Kisangani's capture by the rebels might spark a political revolt against Mobutu in Kinshasa.

With Zaire's troops fleeing before the rebels, the military command sent foreign mercenaries, including Serbian soldiers and reportedly Russian and Ukrainian pilots, to Kisangani. Kalima acknowledged the presence of the European fighters, but said they were only trainers. Monday's bombing "was conducted by Zairian pilots," he said.

A constituency has grown in Kinshasa that favors negotiations. Within the government, "many think they should negotiate with Kabila, but fear they would be fired and accused of treason" if they say so, a senior Western diplomat said last week.

In an interview Sunday, Bemba Saolono,a major backer of Mobutu, blamed Mobutu's prime minister for having failed to quash the rebellion at the outset.

But Kalima, the Defense Ministry official, said "the bombing will continue and intensify. We have taken the military option and we will pursue it to the end, no matter what the cost."