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Congo-Brazzaville Army Launches Operation Against Rebels in Capital

The Republic of Congo's army launched an operation Wednesday in the capital Brazzaville to remove rebels known as Ninjas. Diplomats, aid workers and witnesses said heavy weapons were used and helicopters flew overhead as civilians living in the neighborhood where the fighting took place fled for their safety.

Violence returned to the capital of the Republic of Congo Wednesday as government soldiers entered a Brazzaville neighborhood to oust the Ninja rebels based there.

Local residents and diplomats in the riverside capital said they heard explosions and gunfire as the army used heavy weapons and attack helicopters flew overhead during the operation, which lasted most of the afternoon.

Aid workers said residents from the neighborhood of Bacongo, where the fighting took place, had fled the violence and were heading into the northern and central parts of town.

The rebels, known as Ninjas, had been given until Wednesday to vacate the neighborhood. Outnumbered and outgunned, the rebels fled to the south, a local journalist said.

The Ninjas fought a war against the government in Brazzaville between 1997 and 2003. The process of disarming the dreadlocked fighters has stalled and many retain their weapons and carry out frequent attacks in the Pool region, just to the west of Brazzaville.

But the latest violence in the capital follows the return from exile of former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, who had come back to Brazzaville to attend the burial of his wife.

Last week, six people were killed in clashes between the Ninjas and the security forces in the same part of town.