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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 17:46 GMT
Zimbabwean soldiers cut off in Congo

Several hundred Zimbabwean soldiers are surrounded by Congolese rebels in the centre of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As fighting escalated in several parts of DR Congo, Zimbabwe said it would continue to attack rebel positions to free its own men.

Battle for the heart of Africa
The Zimbabwean soldiers are part of a 10,000-strong force which is fighting to defend the government of President Laurent Kabila.

Colonel Charles Maredza, spokesman for the Zimbabwean force in Congo, said the troops were trapped at the airport in the town of Ikela.

"The forces there have been surrounded at the airport. The rebels are bombing them in their positions and are trying to cut off our supply lines to Ikela."

A UN source was quoted as saying as many as 2,000 Zimbabweans may be trapped at Ikela. Other reports say that about 700 Zimbabweans are trapped.

MLC soldiers MLC rebels have made gains in central Congo
A Zimbabwe military spokesman said his forces would continue bomb attacks on the rebels, to defend the Zimbabwean forces and to oust the rebels from the area around Ikela.

The Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), the largest rebel movement, said President Kabila's forces were continuing to attack the town of Bokungu, near Ikela.

The government forces were apparently trying to penetrate the rebel lines and reach the trapped Zimbabweans.

But an RCD spokesman said the rebels were still firmly in control of Bokungu.

Rebels 'capture plane'

There has also been fighting around the town of Basankusu.

The Ugandan-backed rebels of the Congolese Freedom Movement (MLC) say they have captured the town and a transport aircraft, and taken 120 prisoners.

The latest fighting is among the most severe to have taken place since the peace deal was signed in July between the government, the rebels and the rebels' foreign backers.

Diplomats in Kinshasa have expressed concern that the latest fighting could mean the collapse of the accord.

United Nations military liaison officers have been sent to different parts of the country to review the current military situation and prepare the ground for a full-scale UN mission, provisionally scheduled to begin next year.

The UN Security Council has backed proposals to send 500 observers into Congo, but it wants clear guarantees that the peace is holding before giving formal authorisation for their deployment.
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See also:
25 Nov 99 |  Africa
Zimbabwe losses add up in Congo
16 Nov 99 |  Africa
OAU monitors enter DR Congo
11 Nov 99 |  Africa
UN team starts work in Congo
03 Sep 99 |  Africa
Rwanda hails Congo victory
08 Jul 99 |  Africa
Congo peace plan: the main points
02 Oct 99 |  Africa
Congo accused of breaking truce
23 Jun 99 |  Africa
DR Congo: What price peace?

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