210. Telegram From the Embassy in Belgium to the Department of State1

1552. Congo. Embtels 14832 and 1504.3 Ambassador saw Robiliart February 24 following latter’s return from south of France. Speaking as friend he told Robiliart frankly that there was strong impression in Léopoldville and elsewhere that UMHK was not yet taking effective steps to discharge its obligations and responsibilities to the Congolese central government. If UMHK could not produce absolutely clear record that it was not simply playing Tshombe’s game and supporting latter against Adoula, UMHK would probably find itself in deepest trouble with Adoula and GOC and might end by losing its shirt. It had been these considerations which led Ambassador to urge UMHK place very substantial part of export duties, dividends, et cetera in escrow. While Robiliart had informed Ambassador that UMHK representatives Elisabethville had been instructed to propose seventy-five percent escrow for such payments (Embtel 1451)4 there no evidence UMHK representatives [Page 398] in Elisabethville had yet complied effectively with Robiliart instructions. Ambassador concluded by saying this deadly serious matter for UMHK’s future and that UMHK could expect little sympathy if it did not take steps to place itself in unassailable legal and moral position.

Robiliart replied that seventy-five percent escrow plan had been put to Tshombe. (In reply to Ambassador’s question he said proposal made orally and not in writing.) Tshombe had first indicated he might be willing consider fifteen percent escrow, which Robiliart characterized as ridiculous, but subsequently Tshombe stated he could not agree to any escrow until he had meeting with Adoula which he hoped would occur in very near future since one of the issues he and Adoula would discuss would be division of UMHK payments raised by UMHK in its telegrams to Tshombe and Adoula (Embtel 1441).5 Robiliart concluded by saying that since Tshombe refused to agree to escrow for present, there was no choice for UMHK but to continue full export tax payments to Katanga Government.

Ambassador replied UMHK position was not good enough and was certainly not adequate to protect its shareholders interests. In first place, escrow proposition should have been put to Tshombe in writing and not orally. In second place, and speaking personally Ambassador said record of UMHK representatives willingness to accept and carry out Robiliart’s excellent instructions from Brussels was not one that inspired complete confidence. Ambassador therefore urged UMHK propose seventy-five percent escrow plan once again to Tshombe in writing and at same time make it public so that Adoula government would see that UMHK loyally trying live up to its obligations to Adoula government. Furthermore, if proposition made public, it might be more difficult for Tshombe to find valid grounds to turn it down. If Tshombe should again turn it down and threaten reprisals, then UMHK should make payments only under strong written protest. Ambassador concluded by summarizing again grave dangers for UMHK if it did not place itself in unassailable legal and moral position.

Robiliart seemed somewhat shaken by picture of dangers to UMHK Ambassador had drawn and said he agreed seventy-five percent escrow payment proposal should be made public so that there could be clear record. He promised to consult with his associates before his departure for Paris this evening with view to sending further instructions to UMHK Elisabethville. He also tacitly admitted that he had [Page 399] very difficult problem in getting certain UMHK personnel in Elisabethville to carry out his instructions in spirit they were given and said that high UMHK official had been sent yesterday from Brussels to Elisabethville who was thoroughly familiar with Robiliart views and who Robiliart believed would carry them out.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 770G.00/2–2462. Confidential. Repeated to Léopoldville, Elisabethville, London, Paris, and USUN.
  2. Telegram 1483, February 14, reported that MacArthur had asked Robiliart that day whether Union Miniere had received a reply from Tshombe to its proposal that 75 percent of its export duties and taxes be deposited in escrow. (Ibid., 770G.00/2–1462)
  3. Telegram 1504, February 16, reported a conversation with Van der Straeten of the Societe Generale concerning the Union Miniere proposal. (Ibid., 870G.25/2–1662)
  4. Telegram 1451, February 9, reported a conversation with Robiliart. (Ibid., 770G.00/2–962)
  5. Telegram 1441, February 7, transmitted the texts of telegrams sent by Union Miniere to Adoula and Tshombe on February 6, urging them to reach an agreement that would end the “impossible situation” in which Union Miniere was “torn between contradictory demands” of the Congolese and Katangan Governments. (Ibid., 770G.00/2–762)