Mobutu Lingers On

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LIBREVILLE, Gabon: Mobutu Sese Seko emerged from a summit of his francophone allies insisting he would return to Kinshasa and hold elections while finally acknowledging he is too ill to be a candidate. But as night fell in Gabon, the presidential plane still sat in the Libreville airport. The possibility remains that despite his protestations, the 66-year-old dictator will end his 32-year reign by flying not south to Kinshasa but north to France. "Even if Mobutu does fly to France, he will almost certainly still be vowing to return to Zaire," says TIME's Peter Graff from Nairobi. Western diplomats are hoping he stays away. "With Mobutu absent, (US envoy) Bill Richardson's 'soft landing' will be much easier to negotiate," says Graff. "The remnants of the Mobutuist military would agree to lay down their arms and the rebels would enter the capital in peace." As fighting continues near Kenge, east of the capital, Graff says rebel leader Laurent Kabila himself is perhaps a week away from arriving in Kinshasa. While Mobutu may attempt to save face by leaving a transitional government in his wake, it is doubtful Kabila would tolerate any regime that he does not head.