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Saturday, 16 March, 2002, 18:18 GMT
Fighting flares in DR Congo
Heavy fighting has been taking place in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

United Nations military observers confirm that the airport in the town of Moliro, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, is under the control of soldiers fighting for a Rwandan-backed rebel faction - the Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RCD.

DR Congo rebels
The rebels deny they are being helped by Rwandan soldiers
They said fierce clashes were taking place in and around the town.

It is the first independent confirmation of the flare-up in fighting between the Congolese government and rebels that threatens to derail the country's peace process.

The battle for Moliro follows several weeks of skirmishes between the two sides, but it is still unclear who started the fighting and for what purpose.

The town has been held for the past year by Burundian militiamen allied to the government in Kinshasa.

They apparently fled across the lake in the face of the rebel advance on Saturday.

Both sides had earlier reported that Moliro had already fallen into rebel hands, although the RCD denied the involvement of their Rwandan allies.

France has accused Rwanda of reigniting DR Congo's bloody civil war - an allegation denied by Rwanda.

France accused Kigali of sending 10,000 of its own troops to help the rebels.

DR Congo timeline
1998 - Uganda, Rwanda try to topple Laurent Kabila
1998 - Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia prop up Kabila
1999 - Ceasefire signed but violated repeatedly
2001 - Laurent Kabila assassinated, replaced by his son, Joseph

"Our troops are not there and we are not involved in any fighting," Rwandan army operations commander Colonel Karenzi Karake told the French news agency AFP, adding that he had not heard of any fighting.

Both Rwanda and the rebels accused the Congolese Government of seeking a pretext for quitting peace talks hosted by South Africa in Sun City.

The DR Congo Government suspended the talks on Thursday in light of the offensive.

Talks crisis

The BBC's Johannesburg correspondent, Elizabeth Blunt, says the peace process has been thrown into disarray by the fighting.

The talks facilitator, former President of Botswana Sir Ketumile Masire, has sent two envoys on a rapid diplomatic tour of the region.

He wants all the countries involved to use their influence to get the talks going again.

One envoy has already had a meeting with the Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame, in Kigali, and is also scheduled to visit Kampala, Kinshasa and Luanda.

The other began his trip in Harare, and is going on to Lusaka and Windhoek.

The two envoys are due back in Sun City by Sunday evening in the hope that talks may resume on Monday morning.

See also:

14 Mar 02 | Africa
Congo peace talks hit by walk-out
13 Jan 02 | Africa
Kabila seeks peace at SADC summit
20 Dec 01 | Africa
Death rate soars in DR Congo
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