KINSHASA, Zaire — President Mobutu Sese Seko made a belated return to his capital Saturday, dashing hopes that he was on his way into exile, but efforts to negotiate an orderly end to his rule continued.
While Mobutu was en route from Gabon, South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki announced in the Gabonese capital, Libreville, that Mobutu had agreed to hold one more round of talks with his archrival, guerrilla leader Laurent Kabila, and discuss a transfer of power.
Mbeki, who has been mediating between Mobutu and Kabila, said the meeting will take place aboard a ship off the coast of Congo on Wednesday and that they should "conclude these negotiations."
Mobutu and Kabila met last weekend, but the talks, hosted by South African President Nelson Mandela, ended inconclusively.
South Africa is mediating down to the wire in hopes of sparing Kinshasa, the Zairian capital, a final spasm of bloodshed as the end of Mobutu's 32-year rule looms. Rebel forces now control about three-fourths of Zairian territory, and unconfirmed domestic radio reports Saturday said that guerrilla fighters were just 80 miles away from their ultimate prize, Kinshasa.
In Zaire's Parliament on Saturday, deputies took the first step in the transition plan put forward by South Africa to close the gap between Mobutu and Kabila: They went about the business of selecting a president of Parliament.
South Africa hopes that if a parliamentary president is installed, Mobutu will hand off power to him. After that, the parliamentary president would cede authority to Kabila. The two-step transfer would bridge the distance between Mobutu, who has sworn he will never surrender directly to the rebel leader, and Kabila, who demands that Mobutu give power directly to him.
Amid loud protests from opposition deputies, pro-Mobutu members of Parliament picked Laurent Monsengwo, the archbishop of Kinshasa, for the presidency. The archbishop has held the parliamentary post before but was ousted in 1995, a victim of Mobutu's halfhearted and byzantine program to "democratize" Zaire. Now opposition politicians charge that the archbishop is too close to Mobutu to be credible.