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Wednesday, August 5, 1998 Published at 20:31 GMT 21:31 UK

World: Africa

'Stay out of Congo' - US

The United States has appealed to the neighbours of the Democratic Republic of Congo not to get involved in the rebellion against President Laurent Kabila in the east of the country.

[ image: Laurent Kabila led Tutsi rebel soldiers to overthrow Mobutu last year]
Laurent Kabila led Tutsi rebel soldiers to overthrow Mobutu last year
A US State Department spokesman said Washington was concerned by reports that Rwandan forces had been helping the rebel forces, who are ethnic Tutsis.

The spokesman said the US was also concerned that Tutsis were being arrested and harassed.

The US appeal came despite Rwanda's denial that its soldiers had invaded the eastern part of the country.

It followed news that the eastern town of Bukavu had fallen to the rebels. Officials in Kinshasa said that the country's third largest city, Kisangani, was still under government control.

Independent sources said the rebels had made significant gains in Goma and Kindu.

A big march in support of President Kabila is planned in the capital, Kinshasa.

Rwanda "not to blame"

The Rwandan president, Pasteur Bizimungu, has denied allegations from Kinshasa that his country was responsible for the unrest.

"There is no reason for Rwanda to be involved in the internal affairs of Congo," he said.

But President Bizimungu did not rule out future involvement.

"If we have serious reasons to be involved maybe we should," he said.

Congolese Justice Minister Mwenze Kongolo: "We have to defend our land"
Earlier, in an interview with the BBC, the Congolese Justice Minister, Mwenze Kongolo, said Rwanda was to blame for the fighting in the eastern and central areas of the country.

He denied that the unrest was a rebellion by disaffected soldiers in the army.

Foreign Minister defection

[ image: Laurent Kabila came to power in May 97 with Tutsi help]
Laurent Kabila came to power in May 97 with Tutsi help
The Congolese Foreign Minister, Bizima Karaha, is reported to have gone over to the rebels and moved to the town of Goma.

Mr Karaha failed to return to Kinshasa from a visit to South Africa earlier this week. Johannesburg newspaper The Star said it interviewed him on Monday, and quoted him as saying he was joining the rebels.

In a phone interview to the Reuters news agency from Goma, Mr Karaha is reported accusing President Kabila of failing to govern.

"In his one year in power he has done more political damage than Mobutu ever did in 32 years," he said.

Mr Karaha, an ethnic Tutsi, has been foreign minister since helping President Kabila take power in 1997.

Mediation efforts

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is to organise a regional summit to try and deal with the unrest in Congo and the Great Lakes region in general.

The conference is due to start on Friday afternoon in the resort town of Victoria Falls and carry on until Saturday.

The presidents of Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are reported to have confirmed their attendance.

But a BBC correspondent in Zimbabwe says there is some doubt as to whether Mr Kabila would risk leaving Kinshasa at such an unstable time.

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