Angola and Zimbabwe unite to bomb Congo rebels

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The Independent Online
ANGOLAN AND Zimbabwean aircraft bombed rebel positions in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday as President Laurent Kabila returned to the capital, vowing to strike back against the insurgents. His motorcade - black limousines flanked by pick-up trucks filled with commandos - zipped through Kinshasa's rutted streets past cheering crowds.

"The people must be completely mobilised and armed to crush the aggressors," Mr Kabila said on state radio, urging people to take up spears, bows and arrows to kill Tutsis. "The result is certain ... Victory belongs to the Congolese people."

His return after a week's absence, forced on him when rebels threatened to march into Kinshasa, came as aircraft from Angola and Zimbabwe attacked two big towns held by the rebels, who are backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Rebel officials said the aircraft bombed Kisangani, in eastern Congo, and Kasangulu, 30km (18 miles) from Kinshasa. A rebel said the aircraft had bombed civilian targets in Kisangani. "They cannot recapture Kisangani, only bomb it from the air. This is terrorism."

A string of victories by Congolese soldiers and their Angolan allies in the western corridor that stretches from Kinshasa to the Atlantic has put the rebels on the defensive.

As the fighting threatened to shift towards the border with Rwanda, Catholic officials in Rome said that Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo had attacked a mission crowded with refugees, killing 37 people - all Congolese. They allegedly attacked because they suspected local people were giving food to a pro-government militia.

In western Congo, Angolan forces fighting on behalf of Mr Kabila have recaptured towns the rebels had taken. The rebels in the west are trapped between Angolan forces and Zimbabwean troops defending Kinshasa's southern outskirts.

Congolese state radio said the Congo river port of Boma had been retaken from the rebels, sealing off their last line of retreat. "On the western front, the war has taken a decisive turn with the capture by the Congolese armed forces and their allies of the military base at Kitona and the towns of Muanda, Banana and Boma," it said.

An Angolan government newspaper said that more than 940 people were killed in Sunday's battle for Kitona.

Meanwhile, evidence grew that the decades-old Angolan conflict between the government's MPLA forces and the Unita rebel group had found a new battleground in Congo, shattering the fragile 1994 peace accord. Unita said yesterday it had interests to defend in Congo, but stopped short of openly acknowledging support for the insurrection.

A Unita representative in Lisbon, Rui Oliveira, said his movement could not provide military support to the Congolese rebels because it had demobilised all its troops as part of the peace accord.

However, the Angolan government claims that Unita has some 25,000 troops hidden in the bush. The entry of Angola into Congo's civil war may be driven by fears of a new administration sympathetic to Unita. Angola last year helped Mr Kabila oust President Mobutu Sese Seko, the long-time ruler of what was then Zaire and an ally of Unita's leader, Jonas Savimbi. In return, Mr Kabila agreed to cut off Unita's supply lines across the two countries' border.

Mr Kabila accuses both Uganda and Rwanda of supporting the rebels, who have seized most of the major towns in eastern Congo. But the Ugandan Foreign Minister, Eriya Kategaya, told parliament in Kampala yesterday that Uganda had not taken sides in the conflict.

MPs summoned Mr Kategaya to explain the government's involvement in the Congo crisis and why troops were being deployed in a foreign country without legislative authorisation. He said Ugandan troops were in north- eastern and eastern Congo under an agreement reached early this year with Kinshasa to allow them to flush out Ugandan rebel groups.

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