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Fighting Continues in Congo - 2001-10-01

Fighting continues in the eastern, rebel-controlled areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, raising concern that a cease-fire might be crumbling. The skirmishes are occurring despite renewed efforts to end Congo's three-year-old civil war.

The fighting in recent days has been largely between Congolese rebels and pro-government militias, known as the Mai-Mai.

U.N. officials and witnesses say the most serious of the confrontations happened on Saturday in the rebel-held city of Kindu. The city, which sits on the banks of the Congo River and has a population of about 300,000 people, is considered strategically important. A rebel spokesman says pro-government militias briefly took over Kindu's airport, before rebel fighters drove them off.

There are conflicting reports on the number of casualties. The rebels say at least 14 people were killed in the fighting Saturday. Witnesses were not able to confirm that figure.

Meanwhile, rebels say they have been battling to regain control of the town of Fizi, which had been captured by government soldiers and their allies in early September.

The hostilities, which are the most serious in months, come amid increased efforts by the Kinshasa government and the United Nations to end Congo's three-year civil war. Relief agencies say more than two million people have died as a result of the conflict. Many of the war's victims, the agencies say, have died of hunger or disease.

Several nations in the region are involved in the war. Uganda and Rwanda are supporting rebel factions. Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia are backing the Congolese government.

As part of a peace accord signed in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1999, all nations are to pull their troops from Congolese soil. During a visit to Congo last month, U.N. Secretary General Koffi Annan announced Namibia, which had the fewest soldiers in Congo of the three countries supporting the government, had withdrawn most of its forces.

Last week, Rwandan President Paul Kagame met with Congolese leader Joseph Kabila in Malawi. Rwanda has insisted on keeping its troops in Congo, saying it needs to do so in order to protect itself from Rwandan Hutu rebels, who are operating in eastern Congo.

Efforts to end the Congolese civil war have picked up speed since Joseph Kabila took office, following the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, in January.