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Congo Coup Attempt Fails - 2004-03-28

Well-armed assailants in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa have attacked key government installations and tried to take over a local television station, in an apparent coup attempt.

Gunfire erupted in several parts of the city in the early morning hours, with grenades and rocket launchers also being fired. A coordinated attack was launched against key military installations including the naval base and military airport, both close to the Congo River. There was also fighting near the Presidential Palace.

The palace is near the British embassy, where Ambassador Jim Atkinson told reporters that the fighting was part of a coup attempt.

On the other side of town, the assailants tried to take over a private television station near the main U.N. office, but were repelled.

By mid-morning, Congo Information Minister Vital Kamerhe said the situation is under control.

Later, military officials showed reporters a cache of arms they had seized, including roughly 100 AK-47 rifles, plus several grenades and rocket launchers. They also showed reporters 15 bare-chested prisoners, some of whom were wounded.

Interior Minister Theophile Mbemba Fundu stopped short of calling the attacks a coup attempt, but said they were aimed at undermining Congo's internal security.

The officials also refused to say whether the attackers had come from Brazzaville, across the river. But they said river patrols had been shot at, and have been ordered to remain on high alert

Eight months ago a transitional power-sharing government was formed, bringing the former government and Ugandan- and Rwandan-backed rebel movements together. The peace accord that created the government ended a brutal five-year war that claimed more than three million lives.

Diplomats and U.N. military personnel say that the attackers came across the river from Brazzaville, the capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo. They believe the attackers were supporters of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was deposed in 1997 by President Joseph Kabila's father, Laurent.

Several thousand former soldiers and civil guards from the Mobutu era have been waiting across the river in exile, demanding to be integrated into the new army. But they have been largely ignored until now. They are generally known to be better trained than any of the military personnel that remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While calm has been restored to the streets of Kinshasa, analysts are concerned that the country's troubled peace process has been set back again.

Tensions have been high in the capital, with parliamentary squabbling over the national budget that has largely left out funding for military integration and preparations for next year's planned elections. The division of governorships between the former warring factions has also caused friction because the governors are expected to have a strong influence on the outcome of the elections.

The former rebel groups and the former government tax their respective territories and compete for influence in key financial posts and multi-million dollar mining deals.