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Begin’s Visit to Zaire Postponed

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The official visit of Premier Menachem Begin to Zaire was postponed because President Mobutu Sese Seko feared a political attempt on his life, and not for his given reason of poor health, Maariv’s correspondent in Paris, Tamar Golan, reported today.

Begin was scheduled to leave tomorrow for a state visit to Zaire, the first state visit to an African country by an Israeli Premier since most African states broke diplomatic relations with Israel under Arab pressure after the Yom Kippur War. Zaire was the first African country to resume such ties and its Ambassador presented his credentials to President Yitzhak Navon last week.

At the end of last week, Begin received a cable from Mobutu, asking Begin to postpone his visit because of Mobutu’s poor health. Mobutu reportedly was getting medical treatment in Switzerland. But Maariv, quoting “a senior African source” in Switzerland, reported that Mobutu was suffering “a diplomatic illness,” reportedly fearing domestic foes would try to assassinate him, with Libyan help.

Golan quoted African sources and Mobutu associates as criticizing the time of Begin’s visit, purportedly saying it could not have come at a worse time for Mobutu. Begin would have received a regular gun salute in Kinshasha, on the day of the annual conference of the Organization of African Unity in Tripoli in Libya. The sources said the welcome to Begin would have been, on that date, an outright provocation to Mobutu’s enemies, foreign and domestic.

Mobutu was reported to be in Geneva, “engaged in regular political activities and undergoing routine medical tests, as he does every year,” Golan reported. Political sources in Israel said that unless Begin rescheduled his visit for later in the week, it would probably have to be postponed to a much later date.

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