Congo Rebels Capture 2 Cities

Rebels reportedly captured two major cities and advanced on others in troubled eastern Congo Wednesday in what President Laurent Kabila's government called a rebellion supported by troops from one-time ally Rwanda.

"Almost 400 army soldiers have come from Rwanda and have caused Congolese bloodshed," Congolese government spokesman Didier Mumengi said Wednesday.

A leader of the mutineers, however, went on a rebel-held radio station in the eastern town of Goma near Rwanda's border and denied the uprising was anything but home-grown.

"This is a struggle of the Congolese people," said Arthur Z'Ahidi Ngoma. Ngoma was named rebel leader by a group of former government supporters, opposition officials and soldiers in the eastern town of Goma on Tuesday night, according to the rebel-held station.

Ngoma, a veteran opposition figure who was briefly jailed by Kabila's regime, refuted the government's accusations that the revolt was ethnically-driven or spurred by invaders sent by Rwanda's Tutsi-led government.

Rwanda's President Pasteur Bizimungu also denied his country was involved in the conflict, but left open the possibility for future intervention.

"We do not know what the outcome will be like in Congo ... If there should be any serious reasons to be involved, maybe we should (become involved)," Bizimungu said during an official visit to Zambia.

Rwanda's forces played a key role in Kabila's victory last year over longtime Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. But that delicate alliance of Kabila's rebels, Rwandan troops and Banyamulenge Tutsis from Congo has unraveled and now threatens to topple the current government.

Hostilities subsided Wednesday in the two largest towns in Congo's eastern Kivu region Goma and Bukavu where rebels had taken control, according to the rebel station and Rwanda's state radio.

Fierce fighting, however, was reported in Uvira, south of Bukavu, where rebels were believed to be advancing.

There was a brief exchange of artillery and small weapons fire in the northeastern city of Kisangani, according to several aid groups based in the capital of Kinshasa. An unnamed defense ministry official, however, insisted loyalist troops were not under attack.

On the other side of Congo on the Atlantic coastline, an exchange of gunfire was reported Tuesday in the western village of Kitona, although it was not clear who controlled the town or its military base.

That battle began after rebel gunmen landed a hijacked plane in Kitona, about 140 miles southwest of the capital of Kinshasa. The rebels were believed to be Banyamulenge.

Although Kinshasa was stunned by brief gun battles in two army barracks on Monday, the mood in the city was relatively calm as Red Cross workers collected bodies left in the street from fighting two days before.

Several Kinshasa businesses owned by ethnic Tutsis were reportedly robbed and burned b gangs of local residents as a dusk-to-dawn curfew was lifted.

The rebellion began about a week after Kabila ordered all Rwandan troops out of the country. Kabila did not explain the move.

A Rwandan official, who asked not to be further identified, said Bizima Karaha, an ethnic Tutsi and Congo's foreign minister had arrived in Goma, apparently to join the rebels.

Zimbabwe announced plans Wednesday to host a regional summit on Friday to discuss the Congo crisis. The governments of Congo, Rwanda, Zambia, Namibia and Uganda had expressed willingness to attend, an official in Harare said.

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