France announced today it was providing planes for Morocco to fly war supplies to help Zaire repel the invasion of Katangan rebels in Shaba Province.
An Elysee Palace communique said the planes, provided at the request of Zaire and Morocco, would carry supplies for 1,500 Moroccan troops who arrived in Zaire yesterday, but "no troops whatsoever."
The decision greatly increased French and major power involvement in Zaire, whose border in the copper-rich southeastern province was crossed March 8.
An Elysee spokesman said the planes were flown by French air force crews, but that no other French military forces were involved. He described it as "an exclusively African operation," and said the crews are taking orders from Morocco and Zaire. The airlift should be completed within two days, the spokesman said.
Diplomatic sources said President Valery Giscard d'Estaing was being pressed to help Zaire by moderate African nations worried by growing Cuban and Soviet influence on the continent.
The French communique described Zaire as a "victim of armed subversive activities on its territory which came from aboard."
Last month, French officials said it was speeding up delivery of munitions and other military equipment already ordered by Zaire.
France's latest aid to Zaire also threatened its relations with Angola - where Zaire alleges the invaders came from.France and Angola recently agreed to exchange ambassadors.Angola says it opposes any moves to internationalize the fighting.
The United States has sent military and medical supplies to Zaire, but it contends it has shipped no weapons. Belgium, a former colonial ruler of Zaire, sent planeloads of light weapons that it said had been ordered before the invasion.
Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko told a Newsweek magazine interview last week that he wished "The United States were not so afraid to stand up and be counted." He was referring to Washington's decision to provide only non-combat equipment to Mobutu.
"I must confess," Newsweek quotes the Zaire president as saying, "we are bitterly disappointed by America's attitude. It is your weakness versus their (Soviet Union and Cuba) power and will."
Mobutu has charged that the invaders, who seek independence for the province formerly known as Katanga, had been helped "by complicities at the highest levels of the Zaire army." He said one high-ranking officer had been arrested.
Mobutu has claimed the invaders were sheltered in Angola, carried Soviet arms and were accompanied by Cubans stationed in Angola where they helped a Marxist guerrilla group defeat Western-backed forces last year.
One Zaire news agency spokesman had been quoted as saying the Chinese were speeding 30 tons of emergency supplies to Kinshasa. Belgian officials in Kinshasa denied a report by the invaders that Belgium was sending battalion of troops to Zaire.
The Soviet Union has taken no active role, but Tass, the Soviet news agency, quoted Mobutu today as saying he was negotiating with a high-ranking Cairo officials for "the possible dispatch of Egyptian troops to Zaire in the matter of a few days."
Some sources have reported that Egypt planned to send 1,500 troops to Zaire. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said yesterday, "I hope we shall be doing something to help President Mobutu." He did not elaborate.
There were no further reports of fighting on the Shaba front, which was believed to have stabilized 30 to 50 miles away from the copper-mining center of Kolwezi.
The Belgian ambassador in Kinshasa visited Kolwezi recently and was told by Belgians there that "everything was calm in the town and life was continuing as normal," his embassy said.
Mobutu told a rally yesterday in Kinshasa that the invaders had been able to intercept Zaire's military communications and had invaded just as fuel rationing was imposed in Shaba and paratroops and armored units withdrawn from the area.
But Mobutu vowed: "As long as I live, we shall win."
Mobutu rejected as "completely void of logiv" Angolan President Agostinho Neto's warning against outside intervention in the fighting, the national news agency Azap reported.
Neto sent notes to Moroccan King Hassan, Sadat and the Organization of African United protesting the arrival of the first contigent of Moroccan troops.