KINSHASA (Reuters) - The Congolese conflict has re-ignited with both the government and rebels reporting fighting on several fronts, including in the economically strategic region west of Kinshasa.
A regionally brokered cease-fire and a plan by the United Nations to deploy a large peacekeeping force in the Central African nation formerly known as Zaire now appear to be in tatters.
A government army communique published in Kinshasa Friday said Angolan UNITA guerrillas had linked up with Congolese rebels, already backed by Rwanda and Uganda, in fighting in the west.
The West had been calm since Angolan, Namibian and Zimbabwean government troops backing Congolese President Laurent Kabila evicted rebels there in August 1998 at the start of the conflict.
The army statement said rebels had captured a northeastern town in fighting in that region of the country, which is twice as large as Western Europe. Rebels control the eastern half of Congo.
''The Congolese Army draws attention to the attack and occupation since November 30 of the city of Basankusu by enemy troops composed essentially of Ugandans and UNITA elements,'' said the statement signed by army spokesman Commandant Leon Kasonga.
''In the province of Bas-Congo, to the west of the capital, Kinshasa, forces composed of UNITA rebels as well as Rwandan troops and elements of the former Special Presidential Division (of late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko) attacked the town of Kimpangu on November 28,'' it said.
The rebels were evicted by loyalist forces two days later after the town had been pillaged, it said.
Diplomats in Kinshasa corroborated reports of attacks in the West and of incursions by UNITA in the area where Angolan troops joined the conflict precisely to deny UNITA bases in Congo.
The government statement said that in one attack in the west rebels killed all patients in a hospital in the town of Kimpangu. Diplomats confirmed the attack on the hospital, but neither they nor the government gave any casualty figures.
In their own account, the rebels accused Kabila loyalists of capturing a rebel-held town in the northwest. They termed this a violation of truce accords signed in Zambia in July and August by all parties to the conflict in the heart of Africa.
Kin-Kiey Mulumba of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) said loyalist forces had taken control of Bokungu earlier this week in a drive to liberate between 2,000 and 3,000 Zimbabwean, Namibian and Congolese troops trapped behind rebel lines.
''There was a massive attack by Kabila with three boats, four helicopters and many, many Antonov bombers...our troops had to retreat,'' RCD spokesman Mulumba told Reuters.
The Zimbabwean and other soldiers have been surrounded at the airport at Ikela for several months, some 75 miles southeast of Bokungu on the Tshuapa river.
Thursday, Zimbabwe vowed to continue bombing rebel positions until the troops were liberated. It says rebels tried to cut off supply lines to its troops via land and river routes -- in violation of the cease-fire accord -- and says rebels have fired on planes trying to land at Ikela airport or airdrop supplies.
But Mulumba blamed the latest fighting on Kabila. ''The international community should know now that Kabila has decided to forget the cease-fire and fight us now. We are not going to cross our arms any more,'' he said.
Mulumba said there were ''many dead'' in the attack, but there was no independent confirmation.
Uganda Says No Threat To Peace Deal
Uganda said Friday the cease-fire violations would not derail the peace deal, which provided for the eventual withdrawal of all five foreign armies in Congo. Its Foreign Minister Eriya Kategaya said the main warring parties remained committed to a peace accord signed in Zambia's capital Lusaka.
''Violations are part of the process,'' he told a news conference. ''If there are violations here and there, as long as we are committed, there is no problem.''
Rwanda says delays in implementing the Lusaka accord threaten the chances of peace.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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