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Congo Leader Vows To Crush Uprising

August 4, 1998

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Rebel gunmen opposed to President Laurent Kabila hijacked a private plane in eastern Congo today and forced it to fly to a military base in the west, a government spokesman said.

The hijacking coincides with rebellion in the eastern province of North Kivu, where Banyamulenge ethnic fighters and Rwandan soldiers have reportedly seized control of several key towns.

The plane was seized by Banyamulenge gunmen and flown to the Kitona base, near the Atlantic coast 140 miles southwest of the capital, Kinshasa, said Kabila spokesman Yerodia Abdoulaye Ndombasi.

He gave no other details on the hijacking in a brief announcement on state television.

Earlier today, Kabila vowed to crush the eastern uprising, blaming the Rwandan soldiers who helped the former Marxist rebel catapult to power 14 months ago over longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

``Be assured we will take weapons to swiftly end this rebellion,″ Cabinet minister Pierre Victor Mpoyo said on state radio, quoting Kabila.

Rebel forces had taken control of the eastern town of Bukavu and its airport, although sporadic gunfire could be heard today, said Bukavu Mayor Khaddee Mutware.

``All the city has been liberated,″ Mutware said by telephone. ``The majority of the people are in accordance with this.″

Mutware said fighting Monday for Bukavu had been brief because most of the people, including the soldiers, had joined ``the forces of change.″ He said most Kabila loyalists fled.

The town of Uvira, about 60 miles farther south, had also been captured by rebels, he said. However, an aid worker reached by telephone there said gunfire was still being exchanged.

At the Burundi border, gun and mortar fire could be heard coming from the Congolese town of Mboko, 20 miles south of Uvira.

In Congo’s capital, Kabila convened an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the revolt in the east and gunbattles Monday at two military barracks in Kinshasa, state radio reported. The government blamed Rwandan soldiers and armed mercenaries for both.

``The government asks Congo’s neighbors not to make the wrong decisions to fight,″ Mpoyo said in a radio broadcast following the meeting.

The comment was aimed directly at neighboring Rwanda, which Kabila believes is behind the movement against his leadership. Rwandan mercenaries and Tutsis from the Banyamulenge group played a key role in the overthrow of Mobutu.

Those same fighters today, however, appear to be moving to get rid of Kabila.

Last week, Kabila ordered all Rwandan soldiers to leave the country. Monday’s clashes in Kinshasa apparently pitted Kabila’s troops against Rwandan mercenaries.

Congo’s justice minister, Mwenze Kongolo, told The Associated Press the government was preparing an armed response to the rebellion in the east, where Kabila’s own push to overthrow the government began.

On Monday, Rwandan officials said unrest in Congo’s capital and in the eastern province of North Kivu was an internal matter and denied any involvement.

The majority ethnic Tutsi population in North Kivu has close links with Rwanda and Kabila’s support and control of the region has been faltering for months.

``They are bandits organized to loot the country,″ Kongolo said today.

He said Rwandan soldiers had been seen in the towns of Goma and Bukavu along the border with Rwanda.

``We’re telling them to lay down their arms and end this adventure before we immediately bring in the army,″ Kongolo said.

In the capital, loyal troops continued to patrol the streets and man roadblocks one day after shots rang out at the military bases. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was still in effect, but life in the city began to return to normal as abandoned streets began to fill again with shoppers and merchants.

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