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Friday, January 8, 1999 Published at 16:50 GMT

World: Africa

Rebels blamed for Congo 'massacre'

Rebel forces are reported to have killed 500 civilians in a revenge attack in eastern Congo.

An Italian missionary news agency, MISNA, said insurgents fighting to oust President Laurent Kabila carried out the massacre between December 30 and 1 January.

The reported attack was apparently in retaliation for an operation against rebel forces by militia loyal to Kabila.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday six Congolese volunteers were among those who died.

Nina Galbe, a Red Cross spokeswoman, said the organisation had information its aid workers were among the victims in the village of Makobola, 15 kilometres (nine miles) south of the Lake Tanganyika port of Uvira.

"We are in contact with all the parties involved and discussing security of our personnel," she said.

"We are urging the combatants to respect the Red Cross emblem."

Rebels' denial

Rebel leaders have denied responsibility for the killings and has sent a delegation to Makobola to investigate.

Kyungu Wa-Ku-Mwanza, Congo's ambassador to Kenya, said the slayings were only the latest in a series of massacres committed by the rebels and their allies, Rwanda and Uganda.

"Women and children go through all sorts of ill-treatments without moving the greatest of the Free World," Mwanza told reporters in Nairobi.

Echoes of past

The charges of fresh massacres in Mokobola are hauntingly reminiscent of similar accusations against Kabila's forces during the rebellion that brought him to power in May 1997.

Human rights groups say Kabila's fighters shot and hacked to death thousands of civilians during the Ugandan- and Rwandan-backed uprising that ousted Mobutu Sese Seko, the long-time dictator of Congo, then called Zaire.

Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, leader of the rebel coalition now seeking to dislodge Kabila, has said there was fighting in the Makobola area at the time the massacre allegedly took place.

Wamba said his forces fought 400 Hutu fighters crossing from neighboring Burundi but denied any civilians were harmed.

The Congolese insurgents are a coalition of ethnic Tutsis, disaffected Congolese soldiers and opposition politicians.

With Rwandan and Ugandan support, they took up arms in August, accusing Kabila of misrule, corruption and inciting ethnic hatred against the Congolese Tutsi minority.

The massacre allegations against the rebels come at a time when they are under pressure from Uganda and Rwanda leaders to build further political support among the war-weary Congolese.

In August, they admitted killing several hundred civilians in a revenge attack at Kasika, also south of Uvira. The results of the investigation have not been made public.

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