Zairean troops panic as rebels seize key port

Zairean rebels yesterday seized the port of Kalemie, an important stronghold in the mineral-rich southern province of Shaba, and home town of the rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The seizure of Kalemie, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, brings to seven the number of cities the rebels control.

A spokesman for Zaire's ministry of defence confirmed that the port had fallen, and said the rebels were heading towards Moba 110 miles (175km) to the south. Controlling the port cities provides the rebels of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) with easy access to arms shipments and the central Kasai provinces, which are also opposition strongholds.

The rebels' success raised speculation that they might try to press on to Lubumbashi, Zaire's second largest city and capital of Shaba province.

Thierry Muemgwe, director of the government mineral control office in the southern provincial capital said that on hearing that Kalemie was in rebel hands, Zairean army officers based in Lubumbashi evacuated their goods and families to Kinshasa over the weekend.

Rebels were also fighting government troops outside Watsa, which until its fall last week was a centre for mercenaries recruited by Kinshasa for its counter-offensive. "It's a war being fought on three fronts. It is a strategy to tax the Zairean army and its mercenaries," one observer said.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Ndahiro, chief adviser to Major-General Paul Kagame, Rwanda's vice-president and military strongman, warned that Africa's latest war would not end if Kinshasa brought in troops from French-speaking Chad, Morocco and Togo. "The involvement of foreign troops in Zaire will only complicate the war," he said.

President Mobutu Sese Seko, who has ruled Zaire since 1965, ended his convalescence from an operation for prostate cancer on Monday to fly to Morocco for talks with King Hassan. Morocco aided Mr Mobutu in crushing rebels in Shaba in the 1970s. He was next expected to visit Egypt.