Rwandan, Ugandan troops clash in Congo, 10 killed and 100 wounded

KIGALI, Rwanda - Ugandan and Rwandan troops clashed in Congo on Friday, killing at least 10 civilians and wounding 100 in fighting that drew sharp criticism from the United Nations.

The Ugandan forces sprayed the northern city of Kisangani with mortars and anti-aircraft fire, then attacked Rwandan positions at the main airport at Bangoka, said Lt. Col. Akram Hossain, head of a four-man U.N. monitoring team in Kisangani.

Aid workers in telephone communication with Kisangani from eastern Congo said a building housing Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian aid group, took a direct hit and was in flames, as was the local electric company.

Maj. Emmanuel Ndahiro, the Rwandan army spokesman, said Rwandan units destroyed two Ugandan tanks during fighting for the airport, but were under orders not to advance.

Late Friday, the National Resistance Movement, Uganda's dominant political force, accused Rwandan army units of starting the battle by firing on troops withdrawing from the Simi-Simi airport.

The Ugandans and Rwandans are in Congo to back rival rebel groups opposed to President Laurent Kabila and his supporters from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. Hundreds of Rwandan and Ugandan troops died when the two forces clashed in a four-day battle in Kisangani last August.

In a statement faxed to news agencies in Nairobi, the National Resistance Movement said Rwanda had deployed reinforcements in Kisangani in violation of the truce that ended last summer's fighting.

Kingsangani is a strategically important Congo River port. Its decaying but functioning roads and airports are used to transport troops as well as Congolese gold, diamonds and timber.

The latest fighting threatens the fragile alliance in an 18-month war against Kabila, just as the United Nations stepped up efforts to deploy a 5,500-strong U.N. observer force to oversee the withdrawal of foreign troops from Congo.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is leading a U.N. Security Council delegation visiting Congo and other regional capitals in an effort to secure agreement on a U.N. deployment.

''There is no way anyone can interpret this action as good news,'' Holbrooke said of the fighting. ''Does it directly threaten dialogue between the two sides? It enormously complicates it.''

''We deplore and more than deplore this action,'' he said.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, the Security Council issued a toughly worded statement Friday calling for an end to the fighting.

''The Security Council condemns unreservedly the outbreak of military hostilities in Kisangani. The council is also concerned by reports of the killing of innocent Congolese civilians,'' the statement said.

Hossain, speaking by telephone from Kisangani, said Rwandans were erecting defensive positions in the city in anticipation of a Ugandan move against the city center.

Ugandan artillery, meanwhile, pounded the city with 120mm caliber mortar shells from the Kapalata military camp on the eastern side of Tshopo River, which they captured last month over Rwandan protests, Hossain said.

Rwanda requested an urgent meeting with regional heads of state to resolve the crisis, Ndahiro said, hoping to involve the presidents of Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.

Ndahiro, the Rwandan army spokesman, said Rwandan officials had contacted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as well as the United States, Tanzania and South Africa for help in ending the fighting.

''We want to defuse things. We have no reason to fight with Ugandans,'' he said.

A peace agreement was signed among the warring sides last summer and renewed April 14 when they agreed to allow the United Nations to deploy the U.N. observer mission in four locations across Congo, including Kisangani.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment