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British beef up forces on river

Two hundred more British troops and three RAF C-130 Hercules transport planes were last night heading for Libreville, Gabon, from Lyneham, Wiltshire, in case they are needed to help an estimated 800 foreign nationals get out of Kinshasa, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday.

The troops will be joining 40 Royal Marines, equipped with four "rigid raider" boats and two hovercraft, who have been on stand-by in Brazzaville to evacuate foreigners , the first time Marine hovercraft (LCACs - "Landing Craft Air Cushion Light") have been used on active service of this kind.

Specialists from the Marines, including the Special Boat Service, and from the SAS have been poised to help evacuate foreigners across the river, two miles wide at this point and which has been flowing fast because of heavy rain. The river has gently sloping sandy banks, which make it ideal for hovercraft. Recent photographs indicate a number of motorised dug- out canoes and a single elderly ferry are the only indigenous transport.

Military sources said the SBS and other Marines, who are experts in the use of small craft and inflatable boats, and would be used to evacuate VIPs, could not evacuate 800 people, and this would be the responsibility of the three Hercules.

The commander of the British forces in Zaire is Brigadier Jonathan Thomson, Royal Marines, the chief of Joint Rapid Deployment Force Operations.