BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko Thursday decreed amnesty for political prisoners and exiles, many of whom had tried to establish a second political party in the African nation.
'I am a leader who can punish, but a pardon is sometimes necessary,' Mobutu said in proclamation to the nation on the 16th anniversary of the founding of his Popular Revolutionary Movement (MPR), the only political party in the country.
Mobutu made his announcement after ceremonies in which he was named marshal of Zaire. The party's congress decided last December to give him the new title 'for services rendered to the nation.'
Mobutu said the amnesty would apply to all political prisoners, people under house arrest and people who have lost their political rights. It also would apply to Zairean exiles if they return to the country by the end of June.
There was no estimate of their numbers.
The president said he would ask parliament to pass an amnesty law after which 'there will be no political prisoners left in Zaire.'
But he made it clear his party 'will remain the only political party' in the country.
The main beneficiaries of the amnesty were expected to be 13 former members of parliament divested of their mandate last year and sentenced to 15 years prison on charges of trying to set up a new political party.
The ceremonies were attended by delegations from several African countries, including the chiefs of state from Congo, Gabon, Rwanda, Burundi and the Central African Republic.
Zambia said it would deport more than 100 Zaireans, including 10 alleged members of the National Front for the Liberation of the Congo, which tried to topple Mobutu in a coup attempt in 1978, a government spokesman said.
The government spokesman gave no explanation for the deportation and would not say where the Zaireans were being deported to.
A spokesman for the Lusaka office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said the deported Zaireans failed to prove they were 'genuine refugees.'