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DRC Rebels Continue to Hold 8 Hostages - 2002-09-06

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo says rebels who captured an airplane in the northeast of the country continue to hold eight civilians hostage.

Rebels captured the chartered aircraft earlier this week, when it landed at an airfield in the town of Isiro, in rebel-held northern Congo.

A Congolese government spokesman said rebels took the eight people aboard hostage. The government spokesman described the eight as Congolese civil service employees, who had been sent to the region to review salary payments.

Rebels with the Congolese Rally for Democracy-National, one of several factions fighting in Congo's four-year civil war, on Tuesday acknowledged they had captured the airplane. The group accused the government of using the aircraft to transport weapons and ammunition to a rival faction.

The government rejects the accusation. It says the aircraft had been leased by missionaries and was carrying books and medical supplies as its only cargo.

Officials with the U.N. Observer Mission in Congo, MONUC, said they had received reports of the hostage-taking, but could not say whether the airplane was transporting weapons.

The latest hostage-taking underscores the difficulty that Congo is having in bringing an end to the conflict, which some on the continent have dubbed Africa's World War. Some relief agencies have claimed the war has resulted in the deaths of millions of people, they say, mostly through disease and starvation. But the figure has not been verified.

In addition to a number of insurgent factions, the conflict has involved several nations, including Uganda and Rwanda, which sent in troops to support rebels. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia stepped in to support the Congolese government.

Several peace agreements have been signed among some of the parties involved in the conflict. Thus far, none has succeeded in bringing an end to the war. Hopes for peace increased recently, however, when Uganda and Zimbabwe started withdrawing their troops.

The capture of the eight civil servants in Isiro came after tribal militias took Congo's human rights minister hostage, while he was on a peacekeeping mission in the northeastern Ituri region last week. The minister was released unharmed Sunday, following a swap in which the government released 10 ethnic militiamen it had been holding.