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Army units clash in Congo, 18 reported dead

November 29, 1997

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Army units clashed near the presidential palace and barracks in the Congolese capital on Friday, killing at least 18 soldiers, news reports said.

Military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some of the gunfire could be related to the arrest Tuesday of a former aide to the Central African nation’s ruler, President Laurent Kabila.

Troops patrolled the capital Friday night and blocked a road along the presidential palace.

The afternoon firefight near Kabila’s offices killed seven soldiers, the local Le Palmares newspaper reported, quoting hospital sources and its own reporters.

Kabila was in his office when the shooting broke out, Le Palmares quoted Interior Minister Mwenze Kongolo as saying.

Earlier Friday, a gun battle around barracks in western Kinshasa killed 11 troops, Le Palmares said.

But the Interior Ministry in a broadcast on state radio said that only three soldiers had died and two others were wounded. In Paris, France Info radio reported about 20 soldiers dead.

The fight near the barracks began when one group of soldiers in two jeeps ``began shooting in the air next to the Hotel Intercontinental,″ the ministry said.

Troops on patrol ordered the jeeps to stop and opened fire when they refused, the ministry said. Members of the presidential guard also shot at the renegade troops.

The ministry said troops arrested some members of the group, and the situation was ``under control,″ but police were searching for other renegades.

The military sources said the fighting could be tied to the arrest of Gen. Anselme Masasu Mindaga, one of the heads of the Congolese army who fought with Kabila to topple the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May.

The daily newspaper Le Potentiel reported Friday that leaflets were distributed Thursday calling the population to ``fight for the liberation of Gen. Masasu.″ The leaflets announced ``major actions″ to be organized starting this weekend.

An aide to Masasu said earlier that there have been confrontations between military police and Masasu’s personal guards, who have refused to hand in their weapons.

It is also possible that there is discontent within the army by those who feel shunted aside because they do not hail from Kabila’s Katanga region.

Masasu is the second person close to Kabila to be arrested in the last four months. In July, the former administrator general of the security services, Paul Kabongo Ntite, was imprisoned without explanation. He has not been seen in public since.

Update hourly