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Saturday, August 15, 1998 Published at 22:08 GMT 23:08 UK

World: Africa

US closes Congo embassy

A French national and family await evacuation

The security situation in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is reported to be deteriorating, as rebel forces threaten to attack the city.

The United States has closed its embassy and hundreds of foreign nationals are being evacuated.

BBC Correspondent in Kinshasa, Mark Doyle: "Washington is extremely sensitive about the safety of its diplomats"
A US State Department spokeswoman said the last 20 Americans remaining in Congo left on a chartered plane bound for Cameroon on Saturday.

A plane sent by Belgium, the former colonial power in Kinshasa, has airlifted 177 of its citizens from the country. South African planes have also taken off from Kinshasa airport. Further flights are scheduled for Sunday.

[ image:  ]
However, efforts by the French navy to ferry around 700 foreigners across the river to Brazzaville, the capital of the neighbouring country of Congo, suffered a setback when the authorities closed the border for the night.

Eyewitnesses said local people at Kinshasa port hurled abuse at the foreigners as they awaited evacuation.

Britain, which like France has kept its embassy open, has sent 190 commandos to wait on standby on Ascension Island - a six-hour-flight from Kinshasa - in case they are needed to assist in an evacuation.

Uk Ambassador in Kinshasa, Doug Scrafton: "There is always a risk of people getting caught in the crossfire"
A British Foreign Office spokesman said only 30 of the 200 Britons thought to be in the Democratic Republic of Congo had asked to leave despite being advised to do so.

The British Ambassador to Kinshasa, Doug Crafton, said: "My concern is that British citizens should leave the country while it is still safe to do so."

[ image: Thouands took part in a nationalist pro-government demonstration]
Thouands took part in a nationalist pro-government demonstration
Earlier thousands of students and government employees marched through Kinshasa pledging support for the government.

Many protesters, some carrying spears, accused Rwanda of waging war on Congo and attacked France and the US for trying to destabilise the country.

The mass evacuation from Kinshasa is the fourth carried out by western countries. Foreigners fled the capital during the army mutinies in the final years of the late President Mobutu, and during the turmoil last year when President Laurent Kabila came to power.

Peace moves

[ image: State radio says Kabila has gone to the southern city of Lubumbashi]
State radio says Kabila has gone to the southern city of Lubumbashi
Congolese State radio says President Kabila, whose whereabouts have been unclear for several days, is holding a cabinet meeting in his southern stronghold, the city of Lubumbashi.

There have been no further details on the efforts of four African foreign ministers who are in Kinshasa to try to negotiate peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Dr Vincent Magombe of Africa Inform International on evidence of Rwandan involvement
According to the Congolese Government, the two-week-old rebellion by ethnic Congolese Tutsis is backed by an invasion force of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan army. Rwanda has denied the allegations.

In an interview with the news agency AP, the Congolese Information Minister Didier Mumengi earlier said the government was preparing a counter-offensive.

"We're getting ready to launch a counter strike at the rebels who are in Lower Congo," he said. "As long as there are foreign troops on our soil, the only solution will be a military solution."

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