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Sunday, August 16, 1998 Published at 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK

World: Africa

Kabila returns to Kinshasa

Congolese women in Kinshasa pray for peace

President Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo has returned to the capital, Kinshasa, amid reports of further gains by rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Mark Doyle reports from Kinshasa
Speaking on his arrival, Mr Kabila called on the people "to resist the aggressors."

"We are here to stay. In any case, the aggressors are going to fail," he added.

Hundreds of foreign nationals are continuing to be evacuated as the conflict edges closer to Kinshasa.

[ image: President Kabila: defiant against rebels]
President Kabila: defiant against rebels
President Kabila's return to the capital follows several days of speculation about his whereabouts. State-radio said he had been in his southern stronghold of Lubumbashi for a cabinet meeting.

Officials in Angola said President Kabila had also paid a brief visit there to consult the Presidents of Angola and Namibia.

BBC West Africa correspondent, Mark Doyle, says Mr Kabila's return to Kinshasa shows a certain confidence about the military situation, despite reports of rebel gains.

Minister denies port has fallen

Reuters has reported that the rebels have taken the strategically-important port city of of Matadi, which is about 250km (155 miles) from the capital.

[ image: The government insists it still controls Matadi]
The government insists it still controls Matadi
However, Mr Kabila's minister of information, Didier Mumengi, said government troops were in Matadi.

He said there was no classic front line in the fighting and that government forces were going from house to house clearing out what he called "bandit elements".

Our correspondent says it may be that both accounts are true and that different forces are in different parts of the Matadi area.

The revolt, led by ethnic Tutsis in the east of the country, began in July when a section of the army which helped President Kabila to power last year turned against him.

The government has called the uprising an invasion by Rwanda, but Rwanda has denied any involvement.

Foreign exodus

Over the past few days foreigners have been fleeing Kinshasa in chartered planes, and across the river to neighbouring Brazzaville-Congo.

[ image: French nationals arrive at Paris airport]
French nationals arrive at Paris airport
Local people have hurled abuse at the evacuees.

The media have carried reports accusing western governments and media of supporting the rebels.

President Kabila's cabinet director, Abdoulaye Yerodia, said that the departing foreigners were like "rats fleeing the ship."

But thousands of foreigners remain in Kinshasa. Many have business investments in the country, but others do not have the money to take a plane out.

In the east of the country, refugees are said to be fleeing by boat to Tanzania where aid workers are housing them in temporary camps.

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