Shelling in Kinshasa suburb, civilians flee

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 28 Aug 1998
The sound of heavy weapons fire echoed over the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Friday and civilians fled suburbs in the east of the city.
Forces loyal to President Laurent Kabila combed the city of five million people for rebel infiltrators.

In the suburb of Kimbanseke a witness reported loyalist tanks attacking rebels in houses and a hospital after evacuation warnings. Witnesses said there was no immediate sign of an all-out assault on rebels holed up in nearby Masina.

"Several thousand people left the districts yesterday and this morning," one resident of Kimbanseke told Reuters.

One Masina resident said soldiers at the Ndjili River, which marks the edge of the conflict zone, had begun turning fleeing civilians back.

"They were telling people to stop leaving their homes as rebels could occupy them," he said by telephone.

Government loyalists were deployed heavily in Masina and across the city with numerous check points still in place and soldiers stopping vehicles and searching them thoroughly.

Apart from Masina and Kimbanseke, there were no reports of major incidents elsewhere in Kinshasa.

Rebels holding the giant Inga dam in the strategic western Congo River corridor linking Kinshasa to the sea have cut power to the city, leaving it dependent on a secondary dam and seriously disrupting electricity supplies.

This has hit water supplies in some areas. With the city cut off from traditional areas of supply in the east and the west, food, both imported and locally grown, has grown scarcer, pushing up prices.

State radio told listeners that any shooting was just the Congolese army mopping up pockets of rebel resistance.

It quoted a statement from the new armed forces chief of staff, Kabila's son Joseph, for young soldiers who switched sides to lay down their arms immediately.

"The Rwandan and Ugandan aggressors carried young Congolese soldiers along with them in their adventure. These soldiers are urged to return to reason," an announcer said.

Kabila himself, who accuses former allies Rwanda and Uganda of invading in support of rebels who took up arms against him on August 2, was no longer in the capital.

His political chief of staff, Abdoulaye Yerodia, said on Thursday that Kabila was still directing operations. "He is in the country. He will come back soon," he told Reuters.

Yerodia declined to say when Kabila left or where he was. Diplomats said he was most likely in Lubumbashi, Congo's second city and capital of his southern home province of Katanga.

Mobs lynched suspected rebels in Kinshasa on Thursday. "The local population is very much against them," one Masina resident said.

Journalists counted about 10 suspected rebel infiltrators either burned or beaten to death.

Interior Minister Gaetan Kakudji said the fact that the area was populated explained a delay in cleaning up pockets of enemy activity. "Our armed forces are progressing with much caution which means that the operation is lasting longer than first thought," he added.

There were no firm details of the overall death toll but officials said hundreds of rebels had surrendered.

Angolan forces fighting for Kabila have recaptured the garrison town of Kitona, the rebel rear base on the western front, and other towns in the strategic Congo River corridor linking Kinshasa to the sea.

Kabila ousted veteran dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997 with the help of Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated army, Uganda, Angola and other foreign and domestic allies in the former Zaire.

He fell out with Uganda and Rwanda over border security and the role and status of Congo's ethnic Tutsi minority.

The rebels, who took up arms in the eastern town of Goma after Kabila ordered all Rwandan forces to leave, hold Bunia, Goma, Bukavu and Uvira, the main towns in the east.

They also say that they control Congo's third city of Kisangani in the jungle interior.

Uganda and Rwanda deny involvement in the latest revolt. Independent sources say Rwanda is involved. Uganda says it has troops in eastern Congo, only to pursue Ugandan rebels based there.

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