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Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK

World: Africa

Rwanda hails Congo victory

Zimbabwean soldiers are fighting in support of President Kabila

Congolese rebels killed 80 Zimbabwean soldiers and took four others hostage after an ambush in the eastern Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rwandan Government has said.

It said a further 130 soldiers of unknown nationality had also been killed in pursuit operations following the ambush.

The news matches earlier reports by Congolese rebels.

The Rwandans said a senior Zimbabwean commanding officer was among the dead.

Zimbabwe denial

Zimbabwe has denied that its forces suffered a heavy defeat on Monday. A defence forces spokesman told the BBC that the claims were not true.

Colonel Chancellor Diye said that the rebel alliance had itself suffered 80 casualties and a Ugandan battalion commander had been wounded in fighting in the same area last week.

He suggested that the figures had been mixed up or the rebels were engaging in tit-for-tat propaganda.

The rebels have reportedly stepped up their activities in eastern Kasai in recent weeks, with one group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy, moving on the strategic city of Mbuji-Mayi, the centre of the Congolese diamond industry.

Pressure on Mugabe

Correspondents say that if the reports of Zimbabwean losses are confirmed, they will increase pressure on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to withdraw troops from a war that has proved highly unpopular at home.

[ image: Zimbabwe's leader is under pressure to pull out]
Zimbabwe's leader is under pressure to pull out
Many Zimbabweans feel that the government should concentrate on the country's internal problems before getting involved in other people's conflicts.

In an interview with the BBC last year, President Mugabe said Zimbabwe and other southern African countries had to support Congolese President Laurent Kabila's government when it faced "aggression from its neighbours".

The Zimbabwe Government also says it is hoping for investment opportunities in the Congo as a result of the war.

President Kabila, who has been fighting a rebel uprising since last August, is backed by forces from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Chad.

Rwanda is giving strong military support to the rebels in their attempts to oust President Kabila. Along with Uganda, they accuse President Kabila, whom they helped bring to power, of being undemocratic.

Efforts to end the fighting have so far failed because Mr Kabila has refused to meet the rebels face-to-face.

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