No survivors after rebels down airliner

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THE WRECKAGE of a Congolese airliner shot down by rebels has been found in the jungle interior of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with no sign of survivors, government and airline officials said yesterday.

It was still unclear last night whether the 40 or so people on board the private Congolese Airlines (CAL) Boeing 727 were civilians or soldiers.

The rebels, who took up arms against President Laurent Kabila on 2 August and acknowledged targeting the plane, said they would shoot down any other plane landing near Kindu, the government forward base in the east.

"Information which I have received suggests that the plane was found near Lodja. There is no sign of survivors," CAL director Stavros Papaioannou, told Reuters.

Lodja is about 300 km (200 miles) west of Kindu.

Initial reports spoke of the plane being shot down around Kindu, which is surrounded by thick tropical forest, but later reports suggested that the pilot had been able to maintain radio contact for a time.

"We shot down a civilian plane because we had clear information from our men who've infiltrated the city of Kindu... there were no civilians aboard. There were about 40 soldiers," Alexis Tambwe, a senior rebel official, told a news conference in the eastern rebel stronghold of Goma.

"All planes arriving in Kindu face a major risk of being shot down," he added. He stressed yesterday that the rebels did not target civilians.

Mr Papaioannou said on Saturday that the plane had 38 passengers - mainly women and children - and three crew aboard and had apparently been struck by a missile.

Information Minister Didier Mumengi said that the plane had apparently been brought down as it took off from Kindu. Rebel commanders said it was coming in to land. The BBC reported that the pilot was able to maintain radio contact.