290. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Congo1

976. Ref: Deptel 968.2 Following are instructions re further talks with Tshombe:

You should inform Tshombe that, in line with our continuing desire to provide GOC with air support, we want to propose general formula under which GOC and US air operations in Congo can be carried out which meets both GOC and US requirements. Limiting factors of particular concern to us are dangers rebel reprisals against American hostages Stanleyville and possible use South African piloted planes by GOC. Any formula for air operations must take these factors into account. You should emphasize significance USG attaches to safety of hostages and say that danger to them precludes using planes in ways which clearly risk reprisals on them. In similarly frank and realistic vein you should make clear that association with operations in which SA pilots engaged is unacceptable to USG in view effect on both GOC and US images and positions in the world. Against this background you should propose the following formula to Tshombe:

1. He should take an initiative, based on humanitarian grounds, to make clear to rebels and to world that he will not make air attacks against cities or towns, thereby endangering civilian populations. FYI [Page 420] This is not intended to preclude attacks on military targets such as highways and bridges near to towns. Precise guidance will be forthcoming, particularly with regard to Stanleyville. In event rebels dig in to hold any town, we would consider case on merits at time. End FYI. He would insist similarly that rebels treat Congolese and foreign civilian communities under their control in accordance with Article 3 of Geneva Conventions.

2. This undertaking would be in form communications, which would simultaneously be made public, to Kenyatta as head OAU Commission and to Gonard, President ICRC, informing them of GOC’s self-imposed restraints and asking them to obtain rebel cooperation for the humanitarian purposes of the Geneva Conventions.

3. Communications would also request OAU Commission and ICRC to send representatives to both GOC and rebel territory. The representatives should have complete freedom of movement to check on possible violations of Geneva Conventions or departures from the undertaking of the GOC with respect to air attacks. (You should tell Tshombe we believe establishment such presence in Stanleyville would significantly enhance safety Congolese, American and other civilian population there.)

4. Communications would invite ICRC and Commission reps to Leopoldville to discuss modalities, but would make clear that GOC unilateral undertaking becomes effective immediately.

We believe foregoing not only helps solve problem of hostages but provides Tshombe excellent opportunity to seize initiative, gaining stature in African and world forums for statesmanlike act and putting rebels on defensive. In tactical sense too he gains the initiative. Instead of GOC and its associates laboring under threat of rebels to take punitive act against foreigners if GOC hits cities from air, it is now GOC which implicitly threatens rebels with punitive act if rebels break international law.

Tshombe may argue that proposed formula implies equal status for rebels. You should respond that Article 3 of Geneva Conventions is solely humanitarian, not political, in objective. Article 3 specifically states that its provisions shall not affect the legal status of the parties to the conflict. The Conventions further stated that an impartial humanitarian body such as the ICRC may offer its services to the parties to the conflict. For the OAU Commission to cooperate with the ICRC and the parties to the conflict for the purpose of Article 3 is consistent with the Conventions and carries no political implications. Moreover, you might point out that even in the absence of the Geneva Conventions Tshombe as PM of GOC has full authority to invite ICRC, OAU Commission or anyone he wishes to any part of his territory for any proper purpose. Thus it could be argued that deployment of such representatives [Page 421] for humanitarian ends at GOC request is completely consistent with GOC sovereignty.

If you consider useful you might point out to Tshombe initiative we suggesting would permit him provide statesmanlike rationale for self-imposed restraints which consistent with realities of our unpublicized requirements.

If appropriate in course of discussions with Tshombe, you are authorized to inform him that withdrawal second C–130 will be delayed pursuant to your recommendations. Please advise earliest time you believe withdrawal can take place.

For Brussels: You should inform GOB urgently of foregoing and request GOB instruct De Kerchove consult with Godley re any supporting action Belgian Embassy Leopoldville might take, including possible parallel approach.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 THE CONGO. Top Secret; Flash; Limdis. Drafted by Palmer; cleared by Brubeck, Runyon, Lang, and Ball; and approved by Palmer. Also sent to Brussels and repeated to CINCSTRIKE for Ramsey, Nairobi, and the U.S. Mission in Geneva.
  2. Dated October 16; see footnote 3, Document 287.