President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire claimed yesterday that rebels driven out of the southern Zaire city of Kolwezi massacred an undetermined number of white hostages over the weekend somewhere in the bush.
His claim, made during a visit to Morocco, could not be confirmed from other sources, and the French Defense Ministry in Paris said it had no information or comment on it.
Mobutu told Western correspondents in Kolwezi Saturday that 60 hostages had been killed and their bodies spotted on a road leading southward toward the Zambian border but the correspondents were never able to confirm that report. It was not clear yesterday whether Mobutu was again referring to the same hostages or was describing a separate incident.
French paratroopers routed the rebels from Kolwezi almost two weeks ago and remain in Zaire's southern province of Shaba to protect European civilians still there. There have been conflicting reports on whether the rebels took white civilian hostages with them as they retreated toward their bases in Angola.
Mobutu, in Morocco seeking military help from King Hassan II, said in an interview with the official Moroccan news agency, "According to information obtained by our special services, the hostages who were held by the rebels were all liquidated, men, women and children."
"I cannot tell you how many they were," he said. "The drama occurred last Saturday in the bush. But I could not tell you exactly where."
The French embassy in Kinshasa said, after initial reports of hostates being killed, that it had no confirmation.
In the past the Zairian government has leaded reports of massacres that, upon examination, turned out to be exaggerated or could not be confirmed independently. The purpose of the Zairian disclosures appears to be to win greater military support from the West.
The French troops who recaptured Kolwezi May 20 said the rebels killed many Europeans during their 10-day occupation and took dozens of European hostages with them when they fled into the bush. The French began a pursuit of the rebels to try to free the hostages, but were called back as the rebels approached the Zambian and Angolan borders.
The rebels have claimed, through their spokesman in Brussels, that they took no civilian hostages, only seven Frenchmen who served as military advisers to Zairian troops. But refugees and Zairian witnesses have reported seeing the fleeing rebels with white hostages.
The Zairian Red Cross has said the death toll in Kolwezi was 720. That included 132 foreigners. Belgian officials said the bodies of 73 whites had been found and that 289 still were unaccounted for since the May 12 invasion by an estimated 4,000 Angola-based rebels. France has said 44 of its citizens are missing.
The rebels are Lunda tribesmen opposed to Mobutu who fled in the mid-1960s after an unsuccessful rebellion in Shaba, then known as Katanga. A similar invasion was repulsed last spring by Zairian troops aided by about 1,500 Moroccans. Belgian and French troops evacuated about 2,500 foreigners for Kolwezi after the latest attack.
Meanwhile, diplomats in Kinshasa said that the Belgian airline Sabena is expected to begin flying out more women and children from Shaba within the next few days. Several dozen French women and children were flown out of Lubumbashi, the capital of Shaba, on Sunday.
A Belgian embassy spokesman said the Sabena operation would not be evacuation since the passengers would be paying their fares. Sabena added the flights because all Air Zaire sheduled flights from Lubumbashi were fully booked for weeks to come, the officials said.