Algeria: End in Captivity

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The timing was inauspicious. Exactly nine years earlier, the Republic of Congo had been founded. Two years earlier, onetime Congo Premier Moise Tshombe had been skyjacked to Algiers during a holiday flight. Then, on the eve of the double anniversary, Tshombe, 49, was found dead by a servant. Eight Algerian physicians and three French doctors called in by the Algerian government concluded that he had died in his sleep. An autopsy later indicated natural death; the cause was not listed.

Prior to his death, according to his Algerian hosts (who played no part in his kidnaping by a French gunman), Tshombe had twice been treated for a heart condition. Tshombe spent his first year in Algeria in military barracks; during the second he was moved to more comfortable quarters. But like another prisoner, former Algerian President Ahmed ben Bella, Tshombe was often shifted from one isolated villa to another. The wary Algerians, who constantly suspected plots, moved him to thwart liberation attempts on the part of "foreign interests."

Unbearable Loneliness. In barracks or villas, Tshombe's life was monastic and frustrating. He was allowed no visitors, spent much time reading, listening to records or planning menus. He was sometimes taken on automobile drives, but had to don a fake beard as disguise to enter even isolated restaurants. As the confinement lengthened, he began to suffer from melancholy, complained of missing his wife and ten children in Brussels. Presumably, he also missed the string of lissome white "secretaries" who had been among the coteries at his homes in exile in Madrid and Mallorca. Algerian President Houari Boumediene ignored a court ruling that Tshombe be extradited to the Congo, where he had long since been sentenced to death for treason.

For a man whose round face had always brightened at the sight of adoring crowds, the loneliness was unbearable. Foreign diplomats in Algiers last week suggested, with more poetic license than medical precision, that Tshombe died of a broken heart rather than a damaged one.

Checkered Legend. In the Congo, only curt mention of his death was made. Tshombe had been largely a non-person since his exile in 1965. The son of a millionaire trader, Tshombe emerged on the world stage when the Congo became an independent country. Patrice Lumumba, the Congo's charismatic first Premier, wanted strong central government. Tshombe, speaking for the copper-rich province of Katanga, demanded a loose federation. The disagreement started a civil war that raged for 29 months, required 30,000 United Nations troops to settle, and was notable for rape, pillage and bloody atrocities. Lumumba was murdered—a U.N. commission suspected Tshombe of complicity—and Tshombe was exiled and 'then recalled to become Premier, only to be exiled once more in 1965.

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