570. Telegram From the Embassy in Zambia to the Department of State1

1112. VIPTO 74. Vice President’s Africa trip: Congo mercenaries.

1. In course extensive private conversation between VP and Mobutu (reported septel)2 subject of mercenaries discussed in some detail. Conversation developed after considerable elaboration by Mobutu of his basic problems of security and his intense personal desire to assure genuine independence of Congo.

2. Mobutu recounted in detail entire mercenary developments since revolt began in summer. He complained most bitterly about the treatment he receiving by right-wing elements in Belgium and right-wing press. He frankly recognized international problem of mercenaries in that manner in which problem was solved would have bearing on attitude of international problem of mercenaries in that manner [Page 827] in which problem was solved would have bearing on attitude of international community towards Congo. He reaffirmed in staunchest fashion that he was not racist in attitude but that situation rapidly developing to point where it would be impossible avoid arousing emotions in Congo unless Belgian right-wing press got off his back. By contrast Belgium King has written him a very good letter.

3. VP recounted that Houphouet-Boigny, Tubman, and Ankrah had all expressed to him their understanding for Mobutu’s dilemma but that they were also concerned by international repercussions if mercenaries were returned to the Congo and were tried and shot. They asked VP to discuss matter with Mobutu within framework their sympathetic concern. VP said there no doubt, of course, that mercenaries were criminals. However, recognizing practical problem Mobutu faces, both in relations among Europeans and Congolese in Congo and between Congo and Europeans, we wondered if we could be helpful in any way in this difficult problem.

4. Mobutu explained that if mercenaries left Rwanda by land they would require visas from neighboring African countries and if they were flown out they would require overflight permission. Either would be extremely difficult for African countries to permit in view record of mercenaries. As personal thought, VP wondered whether mercenaries could be tried in absentia. This would tell whole world about their record and would mean that if mercenaries ever returned to African countries they could be arrested as common criminals. Mobutu said he wished to get rid of mercenaries but not have them killed, and would like to find way to be responsive to letter from Belgian King. He was willing to send FM Bomboko to forthcoming OAU meeting at Khartoum to try to work out something. However, if right-wing Belgian press did not reduce its attacks on him and his country, it would be impossible to work out satisfactory solution. He urgently asked that US do whatever it could to get GOB to call off these attacks. He observed that GOB often claimed to have no influence with these interests but that it was not hesitant at all to exercise control when it appeared really necessary.

5. Mobutu gave clear impression that he wished solution short of return and execution of mercenaries. He was eloquent about pressures on him if situation endured for long. He repeatedly said that unless European press attacks stopped he would be unable, possibly unwilling, to avoid emotional reaction within Congo. He very strongly hoped US would be able influence GOB on this matter.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 US/HUMPHREY. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Kinshasa and Brussels.
  2. Not found.