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Zimbabwean Reinforcements to Congo

October 22, 1998

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Soldiers, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces left Zimbabwe’s capital today, apparently headed to Congo for an assault on rebels in the country’s eastern jungles.

The deployment came a day after Zimbabwe joined two other South African countries, Namibia and Angola, in announcing plans for a major offensive in eastern Congo. To date, their forces were concentrated in western Congo, where they fended off a rebel advance in August.

The joint military campaign in the east threatens a major escalation of a conflict in which two other countries in the region also are embroiled. Rwanda and Uganda both reportedly back the rebels who are trying to topple Congo President Laurent Kabila.

Fighting in steamy, insect-infested jungles familiar to the rebels could be difficult.

Seasonal rains that close many roads are imminent. Low cloud cover and tropical rainfall would also curtail the allies’ advantage of air power, said Harare-based defense analyst Michael Quintana.

Quintana said the troops also will have to contend with extended supply lines to their bases in the west.

The rebels ``are likely to roll with the allied punch, bide their time and then come back with a sting,″ he said.

Residents on the main route to Harare’s Manyame military airbase reported seeing convoys of troops, munitions, armored cars and trucks towing artillery headed toward the base today.

Military transport airplanes were seen taking off, witnesses said.

There was no official word on how many reinforcements were on their way to join about 3,000 Zimbabwe troops already in the Congo.

``We are working in line with what the heads of government decided yesterday,″ said Col. Chancellor Diye, spokesman for the Zimbabwe National Army. He would not elaborate.

Also today, Rwanda’s vice president, Gen. Paul Kagame, met with South African President Nelson Mandela in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. No details of their discussions were released.

Mandela is trying to broker a peace accord for Congo.

Update hourly