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Congo Government Retakes Rebel-held Town as President Visits East - 2004-10-17

Congo's government has announced that forces loyal to Kinshasa have ousted gunmen that seized a southern mining town earlier this week, killing 30 rebels. The reports of a fresh rebellion had raised concerns in the capital as President Joseph Kabila embarked on a symbolic tour of the former rebel-held east of the country.

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo announced Saturday that it had retaken the town of Kilwa, a mining town that was seized by gunmen in the southeastern corner of the country.

Kisulu Ngoy, the governor of the mineral rich province of Katanga, said that loyalist forces had attacked the rebels holding the town and, by late Friday, were fully back in control.

He said that 30 of the renegade gunmen had been killed and another six captured during the operation. But he also said that some 10 civilians had drowned trying to cross a nearby river to flee the fighting.

Mr. Ngoy said that the surviving rebels had fled into the bush but were being pursued by government forces in the hills.

There is still a great deal of speculation surrounding the identity of the gunmen. The governor said that some of the gunmen had demanded independence for Katanga but many had been young men that were recruited in the town once it had been seized earlier in the week.

The latest rebellion caused alarm in Congo's capital Kinshasa as news filtered in that some of the gunmen could be Katangan Tigers, a feared group which fought for secession in the south in the 1960s and later fled to former Portuguese colony Angola.

An international company running a nearby copper and silver mine has been forced to suspend operations and evacuate some staff.

Congo is struggling to recover from a five-year war that involved six neighboring countries and killed three million people, mostly through hunger and disease.

Ironically, the news of a fresh rebellion in the Congo coincided with President Joseph Kabila's long awaited trip to the former rebel-held east of the country.

President Kabila arrived Saturday in Kisangani, a trading town on the Congo River that was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting between foreign backed rebel forces during Congo's war.

It is the first time that he has visited the formerly rebel held east since the end of the war and he told thousands of people that his arrival was a true sign of the reunification of the vast African country.

He is due to visit Kindu, another former rebel stronghold, but will not go as far as North or South Kivus, provinces in the far east of the country that the fragile transitional government is still struggling to get under control.