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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK

World: Africa

Congo raids 'targeted civilians'

Congolese rebels accuse President Kabila of fostering ethnic strife

Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have accused the government of targeting civilians in two surprise air attacks on rebel towns in the east of the country on Tuesday.

The rebels say at least 46 people were killed and 49 injured in the attacks on the towns of Goma and Uvira.

Most of the victims were in Goma, the rebel headquarters, when a Russian-built Antonov cargo plane bombed two residential districts on Tuesday evening, the rebels said.

The rebels took up arms against President Laurent Kabila last year. All efforts to negotiate a settlement have so far failed.

Rebel military commander General Celestin Ilunga said: "Mr Kabila is talking about negotiations and he sends planes to kill civilians."

Cutting supply lines

However the government denied attacking any civilians.

The deputy chief of the Congolese armed forces, Commandant Francois Olenga, said: "We bombed military targets, including the (rebel) radio. It was a warning we are hardening our position. We want to cut the supply lines of the enemy."

[ image: Rebels took up arms against President Kabila's forces last year]
Rebels took up arms against President Kabila's forces last year
The country's armed forces have also denied that Manono, the home town of President Kabila, is in rebel hands.

The rebels have said they believe the government's bombing of the two rebel strongholds was in revenge for the capture of Manono, in the southeast.

Apparently undeterred by Tuesday's bombing, the rebels and their Rwandan allies said they struck back on Wednesday with a new offensive on a strategic army garrison.

Rebel advance

Rebel leaders said they launched a fresh advance on the southern government-held diamond town of Mbuji-Mayi after the raids on Goma and Uvira.

General Ilunga said rebel troops had taken Kabinda, 120km (75 miles) east of Mbuji-Mayi, on Tuesday, overrunning the government's last defence along the rebels' western sweep toward the diamond town.

He said the rebels had also captured Bene Dibele, 240km (160 miles) north of Mbuji-Mayi on the River Sankuru, from where they were approaching the diamond centre in a pincer movement.

Rebels had taken Manono on Saturday, General Ilunga said, but left the airstrip in the hands of Zimbabwean troops, to allow the foreigners backing President Kabila to evacuate and avoid unnecessary casualties.

However, a Zimbabwe government newspaper on Wednesday reported that pro-Kabila forces had recently thwarted the rebel advance on Mbuji-Mayi and killed hundreds of Rwandan and Ugandan troops fighting alongside the rebels.

'Abuse of power'

The Congolese president has the support of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia in his efforts to contain the insurgency.

The rebel coalition of ethnic Tutsis, disaffected Congolese soldiers and Congolese opposition politicians accuse President Kabila of abusing his power and fostering ethnic strife.

They took up arms against the Congolese leader last year with the backing of Rwandan and Ugandan troops.

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