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Congo Capital Wakes Up to Fighting

August 27, 1998

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Fighting began today less than half an hour before a nightly dusk-to-dawn curfew was to be lifted in the Congolese capital, where residents braced for a full-scale rebel assault.

Bullets could be heard ricocheting off building walls near the French Embassy in the heart of Kinshasa, but it was not immediately clear who was firing the shots.

The shooting involved incoming and outgoing gunfire and did not appear to be caused by fighters firing randomly into the air.

The 3-week-old civil war spilled into the capital’s eastern suburbs Wednesday and hundreds of fighters have been reported killed or wounded. The clashes forced residents, already battered by power cuts and water shortages, to hunker down for what some feared would be a long rebel offensive.

Last week, President Laurent Kabila enlisted the support of Angolan and Zimbabwean troops to help fend off the rebel force _ a coalition of ethnic Tutsi fighters and disenchanted members of Kabila’s own military. The rebels accuse Kabila of mismanagement and corruption.

Wednesday’s fighting centered on Kinshasa’s airport, near the Kingasani and Kinbanseke districts, suburbs 12 miles to the east.

Tense soldiers patrolled deserted neighborhoods _ a dramatic shift from one day earlier when crowds of cheering, waving residents welcomed Kabila back to the city.

Throughout the day, the Voice of the People radio broadcast scathing attacks on neighboring Rwanda and Uganda _ both of which have been accused by Kabila of supporting the rebels with arms and soldiers.

A meeting scheduled between Kabila and four African peace envoys in Kinshasa was canceled Wednesday due to the fighting, as was a planned meeting between Congo’s foreign minister and ambassadors.

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