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French follow US with Congo airlift

CFrance yesterday joined the United States in pulling its citizens out of Brazzaville after a French soldier was killed in crossfire and five others wounded.

More than 350 foreigners were evacuated in four French air force planes, as Paris despatched another 450 troops from Bangui, in the neighbouring Central African Republic, to reinforce the 300 already in Brazzaville.

Bodies of dead fighters and civilians lay untouched on the streets yesterday. One shell, intended for Brazzaville, landed in Kinshasa on the other side of the Congo. This appears to have been bad shooting. "I doubt they were trying to declare war on their neighbours", a diplomat said.

The fighting in Congo-Brazzaville, which echoes events in Sierra Leone last week, was the first foreign policy test for France's new Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who has to work with the conservative President Jacques Chirac.

Battles between troops loyal to President Pascal Lissouba and supporters of ex-President Denis Sassou Nguesso has formed a dramatic turn-round after Laurent Kabila's victory in Congo-Zaire.

Two weeks ago Western forces, including Royal Marines with hovercraft, were preparing to evacuate Westerners from Kinshasa across the two-mile wide river to Brazzaville. Yesterday, people were fleeing in the opposite direction, to the relative stability of Kinshasa.

Almost all the Britons in Brazzaville have now left. The Foreign Office said 15 had registered yesterday, and maybe another 30 had not registered. Diplomatic sources said fighting was probably a "knock-on" effect of the war in Congo-Zaire and the imminent election.