A Zairian force of about 350 men attacked the key Shaba Province railway center of Mutshatsha and recaptured the rebel-held town after "severe fighting," the official news agency AZAP reported yesterday.
News of the battle came on the eve of a meeting in Paris of officials from the United States and four European nations to discuss ways to counter Soviet intervention in Africa and to organize support for a pan-African military force to aide Zaire in thwarting future rebel attacks.
Meanwhile, Zaire's president, Mobutu Sese Seko, conferred in Lubumbashi, capital of Shaba, with Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua.
AZAP quoted Mobutu as telling the Chinese official, "It is in adversity that one knows one's friends," an pparent reference to Peking's denunciation pf Soviet actions in Africa. No further details of the talks were disclosed.
In an interview with Swiss and French reporters in Lubumbashi, Mobutu lashed out at the Soviet Union and Cuba for their alleged support for the recent rebel drive into Shaba Province, which was stopped with the aid of French and Belgian paratroopers.
"Since 1975, Russia and Cuba have sown discord in Zaire . . . and used all means to poison the atmosphere and destabilize the economy," AZAP quoted as saying.
In its account of Saturday's fighting at Mutshatsha, the Zairian news agency said the government force, made up exclusively of officer cadets, suffered one soldier killed and three wounded. It said rebels fled toward the Zambian border, from where they entered Zaire in their initial offensive last month.
The news agency gave no indication of rebel casualties.
According to AZAP, Mobutu had been avoiding an attack on Mutshatsha, about 80 miles west of the copper-mining center of Kolwezi, in hopes of protecting an estimated 60 European hostages taken by the rebels when they were driven out Kolwezi by the French and Belgium troops two weeks ago.
Mobutu ordered the attack after intercepted radio communications indicated orders had been given to kill the hostages about eight days ago when the rebels ran short of food to give them, AZAP said.
There was no independent confirmation of the fighting or the fate of the hostages.
In their two days of talks in Paris, representatives from the United States, France, Britain, Belgium and West Germany will conduct "an indepth analysis of recent events in Africa" an make recommendations to their governments, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said.
On Saturday the State Department said the discussions were to be moved up a day but the U.S. representative, David D. Newsom, held only informal talks with French officials yesterday. Newsom is under secretary of state of political affairs and former head of the State Department's Africa section.
In Morocco, 11 U.S. transport planes picked up 1,500 Moroccan troops and took off for Shaba Province. The Moroccans will replace French Foreign Legionnaires who were rushed in to aid Zaire in repelling the rebel offensive.
Morocco had pledged to provide the nucleus of a pan-African peace-keeping force on the condition that other African states participated. A State Department spokesman said the commitment of Morocan troops implied that other African nations had signaled their agreement.
The U.S. transport planes will ferry the French troops back to their base in Corsica. A U.S. spokesman in Washington said Saturday that the U.S., role in the troop exchange will be "limited" and "is directed at the maintenance of the territorial integrity of Zaire and the security of Shaba, upon which the economic viability of Zaire and the likelihood of its people depend."
In Lusaka, Zambia, it was announced that President Kenneth Kaunda had returned from talks with President Agostinho Neto of Angola, cutting a planned four-day visit to one day. No explanation was given for the cancellation. Zaire has charged that both countries have provided havens and supplies for the rebels.