Battle Kills Over 100 In Congo Capital

Congo troops sit on a tank in front of the house of ex-rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday, March. 24, 2007. Security forces regained control of Congo's capital after two days of intense fighting against a former warlord's militia, the head of the army said in a nationally televised address Friday. (AP Photo/John Bompeng)
AP Photo/John Bompeng
More than 100 people died in two days of fighting in Congo's capital, an aid group working with hospitals and morgues said Sunday.

There were 79 bodies in Kinshasa's main morgue by late Saturday night, along with 20 at the city's Kitambo Hospital, six at Ngaliema clinic and two at St. Joseph hospital, said Guy-Marin Kamandji, a spokesman for Catholic charity Caritas.

"Yesterday even as we were at the morgue, more bodies were coming in," he added.

The government's provisional toll stood at least 60 dead and 74 injured, according to a statement by Communications Minister Toussaint Tshilombo Send that was broadcast on U.N.-backed radio. Tshilombo said a final tally would be released after an inquiry.

It was still unclear what sparked the fighting that broke out Thursday between army forces and fighters loyal to failed presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba. Morning shooting gave way to mortar fire in the afternoon that day and people streamed out of the capital. During the fighting, mortar rounds landed as far as 2.5 miles away in Brazzaville, the capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo. In Kinshasa, mortar rounds set fire to buildings and thick black smoke poured out of a damaged oil refinery.

Kamandji said his group was mostly seeing gunshot wounds and people hit by flying fragments.

Security forces regained control of the capital late Friday and calm returned to Kinshasa Saturday, though bodies still lay in the street Saturday afternoon, waiting to be collected by Red Cross ambulances. An Associated Press photographer counted 10 bodies.

About 200 soldiers loyal to Bemba had turned themselves in as demanded by Congo's government, said Jean-Willy Mutombo, a spokesman for the army Chief of Staff. The U.N. had previously reported 109 turning themselves in, with 44 more apprehended as they tried to cross the Congo River into neighboring Republic of Congo, said police spokesman Col. Jean Aive Allakooua.

Bemba, a former warlord who is thought to command a militia numbering in the thousands, did not appear to have left the South African embassy where he sought refuge as the fighting escalated near his home on Thursday. Calls to the embassy Sunday were not returned.

Bemba came second in last year's historic presidential election, Congo's first free vote since 1960. The former rebel leader initially refused to accept defeat to President Joseph Kabila and his personal army took to the streets in violent clashes that left a dozen dead.

He went on to be elected senator and initially agreed to disband his militia, only to repeatedly miss deadlines to do so, most recently last week.

The European Union called on factions in Kinshasa to settle their differences through dialogue, saying the violence was a dangerous precedent that could squander the gains of last year's landmark vote.

Mineral-rich Congo has been ravaged by years of dictatorship and civil war that have kept the people of the sprawling Central African country from profiting from its vast reserves of diamonds, gold and other resources. The nation the size of Western Europe has few roads, and little electricity outside major cities.