Mobutu Sese Seko is accustomed to using a strong arm. When the Zairean President flew to France two weeks ago from Switzerland, where he had been convalescing after cancer surgery since August, his arrival naturally attracted photographers eager to film the elusive leader as he entered his villa at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Minutes later, bodyguards surrounded the journalists, snatched their film and threatened to start breaking limbs.

Mobutu remains the missing man in Zaire's latest crisis, out of sight and in questionable command of his nation. Even in the best of times, his absence would provoke perilous consequences for a country hovering on...

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