British troops on standby

British officials have contingency plans to evacuate up to 1,000 European and Commonwealth citizens from Kinshasa if the situation deteriorates. They stressed they had no reason to believe it would, but were taking no chances. "Kinshasa is currently calm but it could turn nasty within hours," said one.

Operation "Determinant" has continued with 200 more British troops from the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment, the spearhead battalion, who have now arrived on Ascension Island, en route to join another 100 British troops in Libreville, the capital of Gabon.

They can, if necessary, reinforce the 40 Royal Marines already in position on the banks of the Zaire river in case they have to organise an evacuation. Another 60 British personnel are in Brazzaville, Congo, as the forward headquarters for the operation which is commanded by Brigadier Julian Thomson of the Royal Marines. The other main nations involved in pulling foreign citizens out are France, the US and Belgium.

France has 350 troops in Brazzaville and 350 in Libreville, although only the former are earmarked to help evacuate foreign nationals.

The US has 230 (mostly administrative staff) in Brazzaville: the combat troops, 1,400 of them, are embarked on the USS Kearsarge which took over from the USS Nassau on Tuesday. The Belgians have 150 troops in Libreville and another 400 at Pointe Noire, Congo.

The British Royal Marinescan lift 100 people at a time in two hovercraft, known as LCAC(L)s (Landing Craft Air Cushion (Light)) and four "rigid raider" assault boats.

The plans, which have been developed with the British Ambassador in Kinshasa, involve collecting the people for whom the British have taken responsibility - up to 250 British, 250 Commonwealth and 500 other EU citizens - from various assembly points and transporting them north, across the Zaire river, and the border, to Brazzaville.

The main assembly point is the British Embassy enclosure on the banks of the Zaire river, where a jetty has been repaired to enable people to be embarked. A second assembly point is in the Gulf Oil compound, and there are others ten to twelve miles south of Kinshasa.

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