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Relations with Other Neighbors

During the 1980s, the closest threats to Zaire seemed to lie to the east, because relations with Zambia and Tanzania had sunk to the lowest point since the first years of the Mobutu regime, and Burundi and Sudan seemed open to anti-Mobutu activity as well. The "rebel" attacks on Moba, on the Zairian shore of Lake Tanganyika, in 1984 and 1985 led to harsh Zairian criticism of Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, which were alleged to have permitted, if not encouraged, the attacks.

Relations with Zambia were at least as bad, with several shooting incidents taking place along the frontier. In August 1984, long-standing tensions heated up when Zaire rounded up Zambians (mostly in Shaba) and announced they would be deported, in reaction to Zambia's expulsion of immigrants from Zaire and West Africa in July. Mobutu revoked the expulsion orders on August 25 and ordered government officials to release all detained Zambians, but reportedly hundreds had already fled across the border. Lusaka radio alleged that Zairian officials had tricked the Zambians by calling them to stadiums on the pretext of disseminating important information from Lusaka; they then were detained and many were beaten.

The strains in the Zambia-Zaire relationship are linked to Zaire's position in the global economy. Smuggling from Zambia into the isolated Shaba Region of Zaire has long caused considerable tension between the two countries. In 1983 Zambia stationed troops on the border to stem the flow of contraband. Since then there reportedly have been occasional border incidents involving exchanges of gunfire between Zairian and Zambian soldiers. Late in 1984, Zaire announced creation of a Civil Guard to patrol the frontier so that such incidents would not lead directly to confrontations between the two armies. The smuggling problem remained, and in 1988 the two countries introduced strict visa controls in an attempt to deal with it. In 1989 Zaire and Zambia signed an agreement defining their common border. In early November 1991, rail traffic between Zaire's Shaba Region and Zambia resumed, following an incident reportedly provoked by Zairian troops deployed along the border.

Relations with Congo and Uganda also continued to cause problems. In 1989 Congo expelled a large number of Zairians whose status was "irregular," and Zaire responded in kind. It was thought unlikely that Congo would close the border, however, since it was so dependent upon goods imported (or smuggled) from Zaire. In February 1993, a breach in relations between Zaire and Congo occurred following a ferry accident on the Congo River that resulted in the deaths of nearly 150 Zairians being deported from Congo. In the early 1990s, Congo undertook an operation designed to deport 15,000 illegal Zairian immigrants.

Historically, Ugandan-Zairian relations have been complicated by border problems, including cross-border smuggling and disputes over fishing rights in the lakes along the border. Border incidents caused by Zairian rebel groups operating from bases in Uganda increased the strain between the two countries, as did an appearance in Zaire by former Ugandan president Idi Amin Dada in January 1989. He apparently intended to return to Uganda with an estimated 500 armed supporters who were to meet him in northeastern Zaire. Uganda requested the former president's extradition, intending to try Amin for atrocities committed during his eightyear reign. Kinshasa rejected this request because there was no extradition treaty between Uganda and Zaire. Instead, the Mobutu regime detained Amin in Kinshasa and expelled him from the country nine days later. Thereafter, relations between Kampala and Kinshasa were cool, leading to the mutual expulsion of ambassadors. On September 8, 1989, however, the two countries restored full diplomatic ties.

Throughout 1990 Ugandan and Zairian officials worked to stabilize their common border, but the failure of these meetings to achieve any progress has prompted Zaire to close the borders periodically. The border between the two countries appears likely to remain unstable for the foreseeable future.

Unrest in Zaire arising out of economic deterioration and a stalemate over political reform also contributed to the security crisis in southwestern Uganda in 1992 and 1993. Ugandan officials claimed that more than 20,000 Zairian refugees had entered Uganda, seeking refuge from marauding Zairian troops and antigovernment rebel banditry. By contrast, Zaire served as a refuge to thousands of Burundians fleeing ethnic violence in their country in 1993.

Zaire has fostered close relations with Rwanda. In October 1990, when Rwanda was invaded by Uganda-based forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Belgium, France, and Zaire intervened militarily to protect the lives of foreigners and to back the Rwandan government. In February 1991, Mobutu was mandated by a regional meeting of presidents and the secretary general of the OAU to initiate a dialogue leading to a cease-fire agreement between the Rwanda government and the rebels. Representatives of the OAU, along with officials from Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Zaire, met several times in 1991 and 1992 and urged the warring parties to observe the cease-fire agreed to in March 1991, but fighting continued.

Data as of December 1993

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