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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 15:05 GMT
Mugabe shores up Congo position
Presidents Kabila and Mugabe
Kabila and Mugabe were close allies
President Robert Mugabe has returned home early from the Franco-African summit in Cameroon to prepare for a meeting with the Democratic Republic of Congo's other allies - Angola and Namibia.

He has already been briefed by defence and security officals.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 11,000 troops in Congo and has been President Laurent Kabila's main backer at a significant cost to Zimbabwe's economy.

Now in the light of the death of President Kabila, the Zimbabwean Government has to decide what it is going to do with its troops still stationed there.

Defence Minister Moven Mahachi said Zimbabwe would not abandon the Congolese at this critical hour.

And he added that the country would provide further assistance if required.

Views divided

But not all Zimbabweans agree.

The independent Harare Daily News said people greeted Wednesday's announcement of Mr Kabila's death with "joy and jubilation".

Finance Minster Simba Makoni
Finance Minister Simba Makoni wants to cut the military budget
Many see this as an opportunity for Zimbabwe's soldiers to get out of the DRC.

In the past two years, Zimbabwe has suffered an economic downturn. Finance Minister Simba Makoni said last November that the country was in crisis and that the economy was expected to shrink by over 4%.

His finance package, aimed at addressing the problems, cut 15% from the military budget. But the cut could only be made if Zimbabwe pulled out from the DR Congo.

The opposition argues that Zimbabwean forces should never have been despatched to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, in August 1998, when President Kabila's government looked to be within days of falling.

Thousands of troops

Mr Kabila expressed his gratitude by awarding what appeared to be lucrative business concessions to Zimbabwe, including diamonds and land.

But the deals have produced little or nothing in the way of benefits for the general population, while the Zimbabwean economy has borne the cost of maintaining thousands of troops.

Shortages of fuel and foreign currency have been exacerbated by the war.

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