Zaire rebels attack main radio station

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

KINSHASA - Rebel soldiers attacked Zaire's state broadcasting centre early yesterday but were driven off by presidential guards as artillery and gunfire erupted in fresh fighting between military factions overnight.

A European security source said soldiers also clashed with the presidential guard in the Matete area near the international airport overnight, leaving 45 dead.

President Mobutu Sese Seko's political opponents said on Tuesday that his elite troops have killed at least 1,000 people, mainly regular army troops, since soldiers rioted last Thursday.

'They are just fighting each other. All of them have been looting, including the presidential guard,' said the security source, who declined to be identified. Troops were also reported looting in eastern Zaire, indicating the violence may be spreading. Hundreds of peasants there have fled into neighbouring Uganda.

Belgium grounded an aircraft preparing to fly to Kinshasa with millions of dollars' worth of the new 5-million zaire banknotes that started the violence last week. Brussels appeared to be embarking on another collision course with its former colony and ally, President Mobutu, the dictator who has ruled for 27 years.

Zairean soldiers had rioted when they were paid in the new notes and shopkeepers refused to accept them. A transitional government forced on President Mobutu by Western aid donors has declared them worthless.

Belgium also announced yesterday it was recalling most of the 550 paratroopers it rushed to Brazzaville, the Congolese capital across the river from Kinshasa, to ensure the evacuation of its citizens. President Mobutu refused to allow the troops into Kinshasa, saying Belgium wanted to interfere in Zaire's internal affairs. Instead, he welcomed about 70 French marines who helped evacuate more than 1,500 foreigners.

The violence has ballooned into faction fights between troops loyal to President Mobutu and those backing the pro-democracy interim government, and a power struggle between the President and the interim Prime Minister, Etienne Tshisekedi.

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