Following a report that Zaire’s rebel leader Laurent Kabila has signed a $1 billion deal with an Arkansas mining firm, more questions are being asked about the role of the United States in supporting the insurgents’ bid to topple Mobuto Sese Seko.

The rebels success in sweeping across the vast nation of Zaire in a matter of months, especially under the leadership of an obscure disciple of Communist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, has led to theories that the war is part of a U.S. master plan to leverage influence in Africa and secure business interests. There is no question, however, that foreign intervention has been key to rebels’ push on the capital city of Kinshasa so far.

Zaire’s neighbors Rwanda and Uganda have been the principle foreign supporters of the revolution. But there is growing evidence that Washington at least gave its approval to the plan.

For the last two years, about 1.5 million Hutu refugees have been camped just outside Rwanda’s border with Zaire. Not only was that situation destabilizing in itself, but documents captured from those camps confirm rumors that some Hutus were hatching a plot, with the complicity of western governments, to invade Rwanda.

Rwanda had been considering an invasion of Zaire to clear out the camps. But when anti-Tutsi violence renewed in eastern Zaire, Rwanda discovered a new source of rebels who could accomplish its military objectives without an outright invasion. The persecuted Tutsis formed the basis of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire. Rwanda was joined by Uganda in supporting the rebel army with military leadership, training and weapons, say intelligence sources.

“But U.S. policy initially was divided between offering active support for Rwandan intervention and looking the other way,” reported the London Guardian. “In practice, it did both: The Pentagon helped out while the State Department pretended it wasn’t happening.”

In the first few months of the war, the U.S. disclaimed any ties to Kabila’s forces and denied that foreign troops were fighting alongside and within his army. Later, that official story was changed to say that the Rwandan soldiers “liberating” villages and towns on the way to Kinshasa were “on leave” from their assignments. More important, perhaps, is the role the United States played in blocking France’s efforts to rally international support for Mobuto.

Angola also has a role in the imminent overthrow of Mobuto. Many Zairians fled there in the early 1960s after an independence movement by Katangans was crushed. Because Mobuto had hosted Jonas Savimbi’s anti-Communist UNITA movement for nearly 20 years, Angola leapt at the opportunity to train and arm the Katangans and send them over the border to help Kabila.

Reporter Christopher Ruddy’s story Friday made clear that the first major beneficiary of the fall of Mobuto would be America Mineral Fields, a small Arkansas mining company headquartered in Bill Clinton’s hometown of Hope. The company singed a $1 billion agreement with Kabila last month giving it exclusive rights to explore and develop an area the size of Switzerland in southeastern Zaire. The area is rich in zinc and cobalt.

Rumors that the Clinton administration has been secretly arming Kabila’s forces have continued for months. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported on possible U.S. government support for the rebels using neighboring Burundi as a conduit for arms. The Journal detailed the account of a South African pilot who claims that he flew a cargo load of assault rifles from South Africa to Burundi’s capital. Once in Burundi, the pilot was greeted by a U.S. Embassy official.

“The weapons, the pilot said, were destined for Uvira, just across Burundi’s border in Zaire, the birthplace of Mr. Kabila’s revolt,” the Journal reported.

Joseph Farah is Editor of the internet newspaper and Executive Director of the Western Journalism Center, an independent group of investigative reporters.

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