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Sunday, July 18, 1999 Published at 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK

World: Africa

Congo town welcomes rebels

The rebels are backed by Uganda and Rwanda

By BBC East Africa Correspondent, Cathy Jenkins in Gemena

Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been celebrating the taking of another town.

The Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo took Gemena, in the north-west, earlier this week.

[ image: Laurent Kabila: Out of favour in Gemena]
Laurent Kabila: Out of favour in Gemena
When the rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba paid a visit on Sunday the whole town turned out to welcome him, as his small plane landed at the remote jungle airstrip.

They streamed after him, singing and waving palm fronds as he did a victory walk along the wide, tree-lined main street.

His address to the town was similar to ones he has made in every town taken by the Forces of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo. He promised democracy and change.

'Advance will continue'

Mr Bemba's forces briefly held Gemena once before, at the end of last year, but they were forced to withdraw in the face of the superior strength of soldiers from Chad brought in to help President Laurent Kabila.

Their withdrawal allowed Mr Bemba a second chance. The town was re-taken after what was described as a very small fight.

The capture of Gemena took place well after the signing of the ceasefire agreement by Mr Bemba's backer, the Ugandan Government.

But Mr Bemba says he has no intention of signing up to any ceasefire agreement and says he will continue his advance.

Listening to Mr Bemba's speech, a chief official of Gemena admitted that the town's trade, particularly in coffee, would be interrupted.

But he said the town had gained nothing from President Kabila, who had never visited, and the people had also suffered in the looting sprees carried out by the soldiers before they left for Chad.

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