Zimbabwe aircraft bomb rebels as central African war intensifies

Click to follow
ANGOLAN and Zimbabwean aircraft yesterday bombed rebel positions in the Democratic Republic of Congo as President Laurent Kabila returned to the capital, vowing to strike back against the insurgents. His motorcade - a caravan of black limousines flanked by pick-up trucks filled with commandos - zipped through Kinshasa's rutted streets past cheering and waving crowds.

His return after a week's absence, forced on him when rebels threatened to march into Kinshasa, came as the allied planes from Angola and Zimbabwe attacked two major towns held by the rebels, who are backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Rebel officials said the aircraft bombed Kisangani, in eastern Congo, and Kasangulu, 30km from Kinshasa.

A rebel said the planes had bombed civilian targets in Kisangani. "They cannot recapture Kisangani, only bomb it from the air," he said. "This is terrorism."

A string of victories by Congolese soldiers and their Angolan allies in the western corridor that stretches from Kinshasa to the Atlantic Ocean have put the rebels on the defensive. The government said that in the wake of these gains it is planning on moving into rebel areas in the east.

As the fighting threatened to shift towards the border with Rwanda, Catholic officials in Rome said that Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo had attacked a mission crowded with refugees, killing 37 people. They allegedly attacked because they suspected that local people were giving food to a pro-government militia. All the dead were Congolese.

In western Congo, Angolan forces fighting on behalf of Mr Kabila have recaptured towns the rebels had taken, reportedly including the Congo River port of Matadi, though rebel officials deny the town has fallen.

The rebels in the west are trapped between Angolan forces and Zimbabwean troops defending Kinshasa's southern outskirts.