Angolan troops `join Congo conflict'

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The Independent Online
Fighting between government forces and those of a former miltary ruler has been raging in Congo-Brazzaville since early in June. Yesterday, the war entered a dangerous new phase, with reports that Angolan troops had joined in on the side of the rebels.

Congo's army said yesterday that Angolan troops backing its militia rivals had attacked the country's south but had been pushed back.

A presidential spokesman in the Angolan capital, Luanda, confirmed there had been fighting in southern Congo close to the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, but said the Congolese were the attackers.

Reports of fighting in southern Congo triggered panic in the economically strategic region, where Western oil firms led by France's Elf Aquitaine have major investments. Businessmen in the Congo oil capital Pointe Noire, until now unaffected by the four-month ethnic conflict in Brazzaville, said they were considering evacuating their families.

A military high command spokesman in Brazzaville confirmed reports earlier yesterday that Congolese President Pascal Lissouba's southern home area had been attacked from Cabinda by Angolan troops armed with rocket launchers.

But in Luanda, Aldemiro Vaz de Concicao, a spokesman for the Angolan president, insisted that it was the Congolese army that attacked Angolan forces in Cabinda.

The Congolese spokesmansaid President Lissouba's forces still controlled Brazzaville's airport and heavy fighting was continuing in the city centre. He denied the southern towns of Loudima and Dolisie had been taken by the Cobra militia of former military ruler Denis Sassou Nguesso. "The progress of the rebels has been stopped. We have chased them away on several fronts," the spokesman, a colonel, said.

If confirmed, the involvement of Angolan troops would appear to be a direct result of reports that Angola's rebel UNITA forces were backing Lissouba in Congo. Diplomats said one report from Pointe Noire suggested Angolan troops had crossed over on Saturday. Telephone lines to the main town of Dolisie had reportedly been down since then.

Forces backing Lissouba and Sassou's Cobra militia have been fighting in Brazzaville since 5 June. The conflict has raged on despite a UN announcement on Thursday that both sides had signed a truce accord, boosting hopes for a fuller peace deal at negotiations set for Gabon this week.