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Rebels in DRC Lose Important Territory to Rivals - 2002-10-13


Rebels controlling the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo have lost a key town to a rival militia.

Thousands of residents in the town of Uvira, a few kilometers from the Congo-Burundi border, took to the streets to celebrate the defeat of the rebels who called themselves the Rally for Congolese Democracy.

Rebel forces were ousted from Uvira by a tribal militia known as the Mayi Mayi after two-days of heavy fighting. The Mayi Mayi attacked the town by boat, with the support of Rwandan and Burundian rebels.

The rebel soldiers were driven toward the Burundian border where thousands of Uvira residents had fled to escape the violence.

The Rally for Congolese Democracy had the backing of Rwanda, which invaded Congo in 1998 to defend its borders against renegade Rwandan forces responsible for carrying out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Many Congolese resented Rwanda's occupation of one-third of their country's territory.

Last week, Rwanda pulled the last of its 23,000 troops out of Congo, following a peace deal signed by the two countries in July.

The departure of Rwandan troops left Eastern Congo in an increasingly unstable state.

In the renewed fighting, the Mayi Mayi captured several towns from the Rally for Congolese Democracy. Uvira is the Mayi Mayi's most dramatic victory to date. The strategic Lake Tanganyika port town is the second-largest in the turbulent South Kivu province.

The Mayi Mayi are tribal fighters who believe they can protect themselves from bullets by sprinkling themselves with special magic water.

The fighting has created a vast humanitarian problem. Aid agencies say the current insecurity in eastern Congo means they are only able to reach a small proportion of the hundreds of thousands of people in urgent need of food and medical assistance.

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