Hundreds of French legionnaires pressed their search for rebels and white hostages around this war-shattered Zaire mining center yesterday even though the French government had announced in Paris Thursday that it was pulling them out of the area.
With small bands of rebels still operating within 10 miles of here and others suspected to be lying low in the neighboring African villages, the security of Kolwezi remains a serious - and unresolved - problem.
Zairians here have been complaining bitterly about the behavior of the Zaire's army. A French military spokesman here told visiting Western correspondents that Zairian soldiers were "spending most of their time pillaging the town and extorting the people."
A number of Africans reported losing watches and other valuables when their homes were visited by Zairian soldiers searching for rebels.
The European population throughout Shaba Province remains edgy. Some Europeans are beginning to leave other Shaba towns that had not been subjected to rebel attacks, and at least 10 civilian refugees from the provincial capital of Lubumbashi were flown to Kinshasa aboard a French plane Thrusday night.
The Zairian army has spent some reinforcements to Shaba. But virtually all independent observers believe that an additional outside force - whether African or Western - will be necessary before any sizable number of Europeans will agree to return here after the bloody six-day occupation of this town by Angolan-backed rebels.
A few Zairian and European employes have returned to work at the main compound here of Gecamines, the Zairian-owned and Belgain-man-aged company whose mining output provides Zaire with about a third of its total net export earnings, or about $300 million annually.
The mines themselves have not yet begun operating and the underground shafts have been flooded.
Company officials interviewed here confirmed earlier reports that "no significant damage" has been inflicted on the $1 billion mining installations. These could resume operations if European engineers and skilled personnel can be persuaded to return.
About 100 Zairian engineers have remained at Kolwezi and there are reports that about 300 European specialists are waiting in Lubumbashi for things to calm down.
Ranking French officers here acted as though they had not yet received orders to pull out immediately, although Col. Philipps Erulin said the military situation in Kolwezi was resolved and he was turning the town over to Zairian army troops.
Erulin said his troops had killed four more rebels and capturned one Thursday in a search operation six miles from here. He said a group of rebels with two white hostages had been spotted in that area.
Thursday's announcement in Paris said that the 700-man French force here would go by road to Lubumbashi and then be flown to their base in Corsica. Paris sources were quoted as saying the pullout would be completed within 36 hours. It was not clear here when the legionnaires will leave Zaire.
There was also talk here and in Kinshasa of the planned arrival of some Moroccan troops to replace the French, but no confirmatioin of this was available.
Belgium has decided to leave a battalion of paratroops at Kamina in the northern part of Shaba Province in case of more trouble, but they are not being deployed to the towns and cities where Europeans are located.
The exact death toll in the rebel seige is still unknown, but a French Embassy official who visited here Thursday said he had been able to confirm 123 Europeans killed, of whom 15 were found only on Thursday.
A black doctor who stayed throughout the siege and treated many rebel and civilian casualties during the occupation estimated that between 200 and 300 Zairians had died during the fighting. An International Red Cross team now working here has advanced as a tentative total death figure inside the city of 350, including Europeans and Zairians.
More black and white bodies are being found every day as Red Cross workers and the military search homes and the bush outside the town.
Zairian and Red Cross teams have now cleared the half deserted town of bodies and efforts are under way to get the huge copper, cobalt and zine mines going again to revive the economy.
There is a measure of guarded confidence among French military and local Zairian authorities that the mining center's economy can be revived fairly soon of security can be maintained and basic facilities such as water, power, fuel and food can be provided.
The sprawling complex of open pit and underground copper mines around the town is said to be the largest in any one site and the ore body the biggest anywhere. Three-quarters of Zaire's total copper exports, all of its zinc and 90 percent of its cobalt comes from here.
Shaba's mineral wealth provides 60 percent of the country's total export earnings. The economic effects of the Kolwezi siege should begin to be felt in Kinshasa in about two more weeks. Western economists say it normally takes about four weeks for the copper ore to go by river boat and train from Kolwezi to the seaport of Matadi. No copper has left this town since the first attack two weeks ago, leaving about two more weeks supply in the pipeline.
Mine employees were milling about the Gecamines workyards busying themselves mostly with trying to recuperate company cars and trucks used and then abandoned by the rebels during their stay. Several of them said experts had gone Thursday to one of the flooded mines 10 miles outside town to get the pumps working again.
The American construction company Morrison Knudsen is also sending a small team to its working site five miles outside Kolwezi mainly to maintain delicate equipment left there. A company spokesman said in Kinshasa Wednesday that those workers evacuated from the site last week had been reassigned to other sites along the 1,100-mile, $500 million transmission line.
He said no decision has been made yet, however, on whether the 77 employes and their dependents based in the Kolwezi camp were coming back to resume work.