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The Congo: The U.N. Drives Implacably Ahead

7 minute read

Belgian Cement Worker Albert Verbrugghe was driving his wife and another woman down a quiet street in the copper town of Jadotville one day last week, when he suddenly heard the clatter of gunfire. Pulling the triggers for no apparent reason were nervous Indian troops of the advancing United Nations force. Verbrugghe slammed his little Volkswagen to a halt. His wife was already dead, the other woman dying. With an anguished scream. Verbrugghe stumbled out, blood streaming from a wound under his eye. “My wife is killed,” he cried. “Why, why, why?”

The same question, in a larger context, was being asked in many capitals last week. For the third time in 15 months, the world was horrified witness to the spectacle of foreign soldiers, aided by the U.S.. seizing the towns and firing on native soldiers of the Congo. To many, the U.N.’s very presence in the African land was of doubtful wisdom. But in any case, the blazing guns and swooping planes of the U.N. hardly fitted the pacifying intent of its original Congo mandate.

“It is an unspeakable tragedy,” said Connecticut’s Democratic Senator Thomas Dodd. “that the world organization which was set up to prevent war and preserve the peace should be starting wars.” In London, 90 Tory M.P.s accused the U.N. of acting “contrary to its own charter.” Even President Kennedy, who last week ordered the U.S. to begin shipping 2½-ton trucks, armored cars and transport planes to the U.N. Congo force, was reported to be alarmed at the disorder that arose from the U.N. shooting.

On to Jadotville. But there was no turning back on the basic decision that had been made. Katanga’s Secessionist President Moise Tshombe had used every sly trick in the book to frustrate efforts to reunite his rebellious, copper-rich province with the rest of the Congo. Now, U.N. Secretary-General U Thant, with U.S. encouragement, was determined to end the Katanga problem once and for all. The occasion happened to be the collapse of discipline among Tshombe’s boozy, ragtag 20,000-man gendarmerie. When they began shooting at U.N. soldiers in Katanga a fortnight ago, the U.N. replied with all the power at its command.

Last week Irish infantrymen marched into Kipushi, site of copper mines at the Rhodesian border. Ethiopian U.N. troops already occupied Elisabethville itself. But the big prize was Jadotville, a town of 90,000, where the giant Union Mini&3233;re mineral outfit produces one-third of its copper (110,000 tons) and three-fourths of its cobalt (6,600 tons) each year. Toward Jadotville, 70 miles from Elisabethville, moved a two-mile-long column of Indians commanded by Brigadier Reginald Noronha. a gutty soldier who munched hardboiled eggs while mortar shells burst around him.

Weapons Afloat. Alarmed at the prospect of damage to mine installations in which both Britain and Belgium had heavy investments, British U.N. Ambassador Sir Patrick Dean and Belgium’s Walter Loridan demanded assurances from Thant that the U.N. forces would go no farther. Thant assured them that they had halted at the Lufira River. That was correct, up to a point. With three bridges down, the Indians stopped at the Lufira all right, but only long enough to rig ropes and pulleys to a swimming float and ferry 120-mm. mortars, recoilless rifles and Jeeps across the stream. Noronha had no orders to take Jadotville—but then again, he had no orders not to—so he kept on going. Unopposed, the Indians trooped into Jadotville with Noronha himself heading a column of Jeeps.

Things were going less smoothly back at U.N. headquarters in Manhattan. Convinced that Thant had deceived them about Jadotville, Belgian and British diplomats wanted to know what had happened. Thant intimated that his aides in the Congo had exceeded their orders. “There occurred a serious breakdown,” a spokesman said, “in effective communication and coordination between the U.N. headquarters and the Leopoldville office.” Off to Leopoldville “to determine the cause of this lapse and to ensure it will not recur” flew U.N. Under Secretary Ralph Bunche. But once there, Bunche announced that the U.N. still wanted “freedom of movement” throughout all of

Katanga, and added: “The task is not completed.”

Bug-Out Artists. Tshombe himself alternately shouted defiance and whispered of his peaceable aims. After a panicky flight to Southern Rhodesia when the U.N. first attacked, he returned to Katanga, setting up headquarters in the town of Kolwezi. He was disposed to negotiate, he said, but if the U.N. refused to do so, “we shall fight to the end.” Upset at his gendarmerie’s pitiful showing, he reportedly sacked hot-tempered Army Commander General Norbert (“Napoleon”) Moké, relied chiefly on a force of 200 or 300 white mercenaries for a possible last-ditch stand. But apparently even the mercenaries left something to be desired. Two whites, a Belgian and a Hungarian-born U.S. Army deserter who were captured by the Indians at the Lufira River, scorned the South Africans and Rhodesians with whom they fought as “big bug-out artists.” The Katangese, they said, “ran even before the first shot.”

Tshombe’s “scorched earth” threats proved more bluff than anything else. Before they fled, his Katangese troops sabotaged the control board at Union Miniére’s Jadotville plant. The company’s production was at a total halt. But damage was relatively mild, and the U.N. now had sentries protecting two-thirds of its installations.

Happy Days. Whatever criticism was being leveled at the U.N. operation, it drew noisy cheers back in Leopoldville, where Congolese Central Government Premier Cyrille Adoula has been walking a tightrope between a rebellious Parliament and a restive army. Although his government was nearly bankrupt without the huge revenue from Katanga promised to it by the departing Belgian regime 2½ years ago. Adoula’s hopes rose last week with the visit of Union Miniére and Bank of Katanga officials who declared their readiness to divvy up the profits. After lunching with his visitors, Adoula announced: “This is the happiest day of my life.”

Adoula was under heavy pressure to get the Katanga mess settled before spring, for Tshombe’s secession has been the main complaint of Leopoldville’s chaotic Parliament. This unruly rabble, governed largely by its tribal loyalties, does not hesitate to change its tune with every turn in the complicated Congo political mess. For no apparent reason other than to embarrass Adoula, the Deputies last month voted unanimously to free Communist Sympathizer Antoine Gizenga from his island prison at the mouth of the Congo River. Adoula sensibly ignored the resolution, last week announced that Parliament was adjourning, bought tickets home for the legislators, and sent them out of town for at least two months. Though they grumbled that his action was “not polite,” the Deputies went away quietly.

Before they return, Adoula must have a definite deal in the works. He may well be holding long talks with his old foe, Moise Tshombe himself, by that time. This, of course, is the goal of the U.N. Congo effort. There is no desire to destroy Tshombe himself. Even the U.N.’s U Thant recognizes that Tshombe is about the most capable man in Katanga to deal with. Other alternatives are grim; Katanga’s Interior Minister Godefroid Munongo, Tshombe’s No. 2 man, is a fanatic who declares that he will never deal with either the U.N., Adoula, or “the python of Wall Street.”

But getting Moise Tshombe to Leopoldville will not be easy, for he is determined to hold out for all of Katanga’s wealth until it becomes clear that the alternative is to lose it all. Last week the State Department in Washington was putting on the pressure. Though Belgium and Britain were dickering to get Tshombe back to his capital of Elisabethville for talks with the U.N. on any terms, the U.S. declared: “We expect Mr. Tshombe to end promptly the Katanga secession.” It added reassuringly, “There is no desire to deny Mr. Tshombe a place in the future political life of the Congo.”

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