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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 01:56 GMT 02:56 UK

World: Africa

Congo rebels 'take government stronghold'

By Chris Simpson in Kigali

Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo say they have taken the government stronghold of Kindu in the east of the country.

[ image: The rebels say they are ready to push south]
The rebels say they are ready to push south
Kindu, which lies some 1,200 kilometres east of the capital, Kinshasa, had been used by government forces as a launch pad for action against rebel-held areas in the east. It was seen as President Kabila's last major stronghold in the east of the country.

According to a rebel military spokesman, the Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RCD, is now firmly in control of Kindu, having used a 9,000-strong force to encircle the town.

The rebels say they also hold the airport, which had, until recently, been a crucial supply point for Laurent Kabila's campaign in the east.

The RCD has long argued that the capture of Kindu was the best means of pre-empting any counter-offensive from the Congolese government, particularly in terms of possible air strikes on rebel positions further east.

[ image: President Kabila's forces took Kindu last year]
President Kabila's forces took Kindu last year
The rebels say they are now ready to push south, moving on the diamond centre of Mbuji-Mayi, and on Lubumbashi, deep in Congo's copper belt and viewed as President Kabila's main support base.

Rwanda and Uganda, whose troops appear to have been deployed extensively on the rebel side, are thought likely to continue to back a rebel advance.

But it is not clear whether Congo's allies, particularly Zimbabwe and Angola, will choose to remain involved.

Last week, President Kabila announced another shake-up of his military command, bringing his son, Joseph, in as acting Chief of Staff.

But while the rhetoric from Kinshasa remains as defiant as ever, the government cannot afford to lose more territory.

Ironically, just over 18 months ago, it was Kabila himself who arrived in Kindu, breaking the back of President Mobutu's resistance. Ten weeks later, Mobutu was in exile and Kabila was in power.

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