U.S. Shutters Congo Embassy

The U.S. Embassy was shut down in Congo Saturday and its remaining staff was flown out of the country as Congolese officials vowed to strike back at rebels advancing on the capital.

The 20 Americans remaining in Congo left by a chartered plane, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Young said. At the White House, National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley said the flight would take official U.S. personnel to Yaounde, Cameroon.

Meanwhile, envoys from other African nations arrived in Kinshasa to search for a peaceful end to Congo's war.

Foreign ministers from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Namibia were scheduled to meet with Congolese Information Minister Didier Mumengi and other senior government officials during weekend talks.

Still, there was no sign the government was pulling back from fighting against a rebel army of Congolese Tutsis, Rwandan soldiers and disenchanted members of President Laurent Kabila's military.

"We're getting ready to launch a counterstrike at the rebels who are in Lower Congo" in the west, Mumengi said in a telephone interview. "As long as there are foreign troops on our soil, the only solution will be a military solution."

The government says neighboring Rwanda and Uganda are fighting with and supplying the rebellion, a charge both countries deny.

A rebellion against Kabila launched earlier this month quickly escalated into an insurgent war with the rebels capturing key towns in the east, including Goma and Bukavu, and securing positions in the west after a troop airlift.

Bizima Karaha, Kabila's former foreign minister, said today that Congolese opposition leaders had already formed the Congolese Democratic Movement to replace Kabila's government.

"We have a name, we have program, we have leaders," said Karaha, who joined the rebels and was in the eastern town of Bukavu. "We're trying to be as intrusive as possible."

Kinshasa residents have been stocking up on provisions and bottled water. Soldiers continued to patrol the captial's streets and markets, searching cars for weapons and frequently detaining suspected rebel collaborators.

Rebels in the western region of Lower Congo have captured several key towns, including the oil port of Muanda.

The rebellion began earlier this month when Tutsi-led rebels closely tied to Rwanda fought government troops in the capital and opened up fronts in both the east and west of Congo, formerly known as Zaire.

Congo's relations with its former Rwandan and Ugandan allies have been deteriorating throughout Kabila's rule, and last month he expelled Rwandan soldiers. Uganda and Rwanda have been angered by the Congolese president's failure to contain attacks on their territory by renegade groups based in eastern Congo.

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