Kabila's Mines

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MBUJI-MAYI, Zaire: Standing before 50,000 rapturous supporters in the diamond-mining center of Mbuji-Mayi, Laurent Kabila seemed to make a promise to all Zaire: to topple Mobutu Sese Seko and retrieve a nation's stolen wealth. "The diamonds of Mbuji-Mayi went to Kinshasa," Kabila said. "We must go there to find the people who took the diamonds of Mbuji-Mayi." There's a lot of symbolism there, says TIME's Marguerite Michaels. The main message is, without question, he is going to Kinshasa. Meanwhile, another branch of Kabila's army was closing on Lubumbashi, capital of the mineral-rich province Shaba. Kabila will be welcomed as always, not least by the Western companies that hope to revive the crumbling cobalt and copper mining operations in the region. "Kabila has what he calls a "commission" set up in each town, especially mining towns, that his forces liberate," says Michaels. "He talks to businessmen, to foreign companies, trying to get the mines up and working again. He dickers his own deals." That was the case in Mbuji-Mayi, which the rebels claimed Friday. The next day, after meeting with Kabila, diamond giant De Beers announced that rebels were now guarding its properties in the town. Indeed, Kabila's promise of security for foreign operations could bring Zaire back to life. But will Kabila's mines enrich the nation, or just bring a repeat of Mobutu's kleptocratic rule? "This rebellion is financed by Kabila's friends," Michaels says. "By Museveni in Uganda, by Kagame in Rwanda. These backers are all African. They all know each other and they all have these ties to each other. The hope for Zaire is that Kabila, once in power, will have to answer to his neighbors."