The French government agreed today to send Zaire emergency military supplies expected to be mainly small arms and ammuniiton, to help defeat the 11-day-old invasion in the mineral rich, southern area formerly known as Katanga.
The announcement came in response to an appeal from the Zaire government and is expected to arrive within the next few days.
The French promise of aid follows agreement fromthe U.S. and Belgian government to fly in military supplies. Belgium reportedly is sending 30 planesloads of equipment and small arms to the former Belgian Congo.
The second planeload of U.S. military aid - plant parts, medicine, food rations and ohter supprot equipment - is scheduled to arrive in the capital Kinshasa early next week. It will complete U.S. aid package, which Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance said Wednesday would be "less than $2 million."
Most of the goods are to be flown to the southern corner of this large centaql African country, where about 1,500 Katangan rebels of the Congo National Liberation Front have captured four towns since the first surprise attack on March 8. The area, once called Katanga, is now Shaba Province.
The front's next target appears to be Kolwezi in the center of Shaba's rich mineral belt. Loss of the mining city would be a major blow to Zaire's already trouble economy and could pose a serious political threat to the governemnt of President Mobutu Sese Seko.
Eleven Americans were evacuated from the strategic city today after reports that the Katangans were just 50 miles away. Forty-one Americans are still working on construction and mining projects in the area, where U.S. companies have investments totaling almost $1 billion.
Air transportaion thoughout Zaire, a country about the size of the Unted States cast of the Mississippi, almost ground to a halt today when the army commandeered aviation fuel for transportation of troops and supplies to Shaba. Several international flights were forced to cancel stopovers in Kinshasa because of the fuel shortage.
RThere are few signs here in the capital, some 1,500 mile from the fighting, of the growing crisis. Local newspapers and radio hav maintained almost total silence on the invasion of Katangan gendarmes. The invasion is considered by observers here as the most serious threat to the government since the first Katangan revolt just five days after independence in 1960.
The only story in the local press today announced that the resident Agence France-presse correspondent. Pirre Hedouin, was to be ezpelled from Zaire reporting yesterday that Kolwezi had fallen, and the the Katangans had opened another front in western Kasai Province near the town of Tshikapa.
Zaire officials said Hedouin was to be taken to Kolwezi this morning to see that the town was not under siege, and would then be deported.
Several officials have admitted in privaye however, their growing concern that the current Katangan invasion - well coordinated, well supplied and aparently supported by the neighboring Angolan government - is part of a Soviet-backed effort to topple the pro-Western Mobutu government. Zaire is one of the Unted States' closet allies in Africa.
The only obvious source of arms for the Katanags is the Soviet-supplied Angolan government, which may be equipping the invaders in exchange for earlier assistance from an estimated 6,000 Katangan gendarmes during the civil war.
Officials here believe that the Angolan government would not have supplied the Katangans with Soviet approval. Angolan President Agostinho Neto has vehemently denied that his government is assisting the Katangans in any way. He describes the trouble as inteernal unrest in Zaire.
The Angolans charged today that armed bands from Zaire attacked three towns in Angola's olil-rich Cabinda enclave Monday and Tuesday, killing 31 women, children and old people. Neto said Zaire was involved in orgainzing a widespread plan for military aggresion against Angola and Cabinda Commissioner Ernesto Evaristo Kimba issued a stern warning to countries responsible for "sheltering the bandits."
Zaire's concern about Soviet involvement comes as the Communits bloc is displaying a conspicuous interest in African affairs.
Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny is to begin a tour of east and southern Africa next week and Cuban President Fidel Castro is in East Africa, areas close enough to Zaire to create new suspicions here about long-term Soviet intentions.