They look like Cubans, swarthy complexions in all shades of bronze, black wavy hair, often mustachioed. And they dress like Cuban soldiers, dull green fatigues and capes.
So, as the first contingent of Moroccan soldiers jumped off the back of a C-130 cargo plane last weekend in Kolwezi - the valuable mining center of Zaire- the local African troops stationed at the air strip watched in surprise.
These were the soldiers who had come to help fight against Katangan rebels and their alleged Cuban leaders. But they looked so much like the alleged enemy that local resirents have already begun joking about the first contact between Moroccans and Cubans, saying they will have to have a chat before knowing whether they are friends or foes.
There are other, more important similarities between the Moroccans and Cubans here if Cubans are indeed involved in supporting the Katangans, as the Zaire government and a growing number of diplomats in Kinshasa contend.
Both the Moroccan and the Cuban armies are highly organized and disciplined. Both are well equipped by a super power - the Cubans by the Soviets and the Moroccans by the United States and France. Both had experience in recent years - the Cubans in the Angolan civil war, the Moroccans in Egypt and the Spanish Sahara.
The Moroccans were brought into Zaire for the same reason that the Cubans first went to Angola to help the Marxist liberation faction: the inexperienced, poorly disciplined local army would not stand and fight. Terrified by the noise of the opposition's weapons, the Zaire and Angolan armies both have become known for the rapidity with which they abandon "frontline" sties.
In the pre-Cuban period in Angola, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was quickly pushed into a small corner around the capitol by opposition factions. In Zaire, there has so far been no major contact with the enemy since the first Katangan attack on March 8. Mutshatsha fell to the rebels over two weeks ago without any serious effort by the Zaire army to hold it.
The Cubans and Moroccans also moved into central Africa after a similar sequence of events. The Cubans apparently entered Angola in late 1975 after a plea from the Popular Movement and a prod from the Soviet Union. The Moroccans came in after Zaires foreign minister and vice president, Nguza Karl-i-bond, personally took a request to Moroccan King Hassan II - who was then reportedly urged by French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to grant military assistance.
The Cubans were promised backup advice from the Soviets and the Eastern bloc. The Moroccans are now drawing on the advice of 20 French officers normally stationed in Kinshasa.
As did the Cubans in Angola, the Moroccans have come fully equipped, from mobile communications equipment and jeep transport to rifles and sardines.
The Moroccans are considered to be trained and equipped to take on any African army - and, at minimum, to match the level of alleged Cuban involvement. Their presence in Kolwezi offers the first possibility that the Zaire army will be able to defend the country's most valuable city.
At this point, Moroccan Col. Hamssas Hamati, who fought in this area in the early 1960s as a member of the U.N. force, says his orders are merely to organize and advise.
The first contingent of 250 Moroccans was stationed in defensive positions near two key power plants at Nzilo and Nseke, roughly 13 and 50 miles respectively from Kolwezi.
Many observers here feel those orders are only temporary. Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko is anxious to launc an offensive to push the Katangese out of the one-third of Shaba Province that they have taken in the past five weeks.