Zimbabwe loses battalion as Congo war spreads

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The Independent Online
ZIMBABWE IS reported to have lost a battalion of between 80 and 150 men in the war in Congo, where foreign-backed rebels are fighting to overthrow the regime of President Laurent Kabila.

The reports drew a stiff denial from Harare, which has been militarily involved since the beginning of the eight-month-old conflict in the former Zaire.

However, the claim that Zimbabwe has lost so many troops in weekend fighting near the southern town of Kabinda, will come as a serious blow to President Robert Mugabe. At home, his support for President Kabila is seen as costly and self- serving.

The fight over who will control the Democratic Republic of Congo - a country the size of Western Europe - pits President Kabila and his allies in Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Chad against Tutsi rebels supported by Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Hutu guerrillas from Rwanda and Burundi and Mai-Mai warriors drawn from a mixture of Bantu tribes are also fighting the Tutsi rebels.

President Kabila, sensing that he is losing international sympathy, was reported to have hired the "lobbyist of the damned" in Washington. Edward von Kloberg, whose task will be to swing United States opinion away from the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, was hired by President Kabila for a reported annual fee of $500,000 (pounds 312,000).

Mr Von Kloberg's previous clients have included the late Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu and the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. He also advised Zaire's former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, whom Mr Kabila overthrew in 1997.

In a statement, Mr Von Kloberg said: "Mr Kabila, like his predecessor, Mr Mobutu, is now struggling to keep together a country the size of Western Europe with more than 400 ethnic groups and dialects and nearly 50 million people."

President Kabila's alliesclaim they are preventing the "Balkanisation" of central and southern Africa. Critics say they are only defending their own business interests.

Meanwhile, the conflict appeared to have spilt over into a ninth country yesterday as it was reported that up to 7,000 refugees from Congo had arrived in Zambia.

The country has a 600-mile border with Congo. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said some 7,000 people had crossed the border since the beginning of March. Yesterday, it said 900 had arrived in the space of one hour.

Zambia was previously the only country with an extensive land border not to be involved in the war. Last week, however, it admitted it had allowed fuel supplies to reach President Kabila's forces. It said these have now been stopped.

Meanwhile, the only organisation continuing to monitor human rights in Congo, the Catholic missionary news agency, Misna, reported that rebels last week massacred more than 100 civilians in the eastern province of Sud-Kivu.

Misna said the rebels massacred civilians in several villages including Mazozo, Lutunda, Kenge, Lulimba and Kabukungu, and in two districts of Kamituga. The attacks were denied by the rebels' military chief, Commander Jean-Pierre Ondekane.

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