Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Rebels take, lose Congo radio station

CANNONS IN CAPITAL The British ambassador heard heavy artillery fire from the direction of a military base, but the president was reported to be safe and in control

REUTERS , KINSHASA

Explosions and gunfire echoed across the Demo-cratic Republic of Congo's capital early yesterday af-ter renegade presidential guards briefly seized the state radio station, city residents said.

"I heard four explosions and then sometime later a larger fifth explosion. It was very clear," one said in the city center.

Others reported hearing sporadic bursts of automatic gunfire at around 5:30am GMT. The streets were deserted apart from heavily armed troops.

The British ambassador said he had heard artillery fire coming from Camp Tshatshi, the city's biggest military base, which is situated on the outskirts of the city on the Congo River.

"I can hear cannon fire coming from Camp Tshatshi," Ambassador Jim Atkinson said.

Members of the elite unit that guards President Joseph Kabila had earlier seized the state's radio broadcasting operations in an apparent coup bid, but the government said loyal troops regained control of the station soon afterward.

The presidential guards' Major Eric Lenge said on the radio that the country's transitional process was not working and that he was suspending it and taking control himself, UN and Congo government officials said.

A power outage plunged Kinshasa into darkness after Lenge spoke.

"Some officers in the presidential guard took control of the state radio at 2:30 (0130 GMT) this morning, but loyalist soldiers retook control two and a half hours later," government spokesman Vital Kamerhe said.

He did not specify if there had been a battle for the radio station and said it was unclear how many guards had been involved.

A presidential spokesman said Kabila was safe.

"The president is in Kinshasa and he is in control," spokesman Kudura Kasongo said, adding that Lenge had "tried to destabilize the government".

The incident came days after government troops recaptured the eastern town of Bukavu from dissident soldiers following a week-long occupation launched in protest at what the dissidents said was the persecution of their ethnic group.

The revolt in Bukavu exposed the weakness of Kabila's transitional government installed a year ago, which is still struggling to restore central authority across Africa's third-largest country after five years of war.

The clashes in the mineral-rich east also raised fears of a wider regional conflict involving Congo and its tiny neighbor Rwanda, which invaded the former Zaire in 1996 and 1998.

Gunmen attacked four military bases and two television stations in Kinshasa in March in an apparent coup attempt, the first political violence in the city for five years. Kabila's office blamed members of the personal guard of late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko for those attacks.

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