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DATE=12/1/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=CONGO FIGHTING (L ONLY) NUMBER=2-256713 BYLINE=TODD PITMAN DATELINE=KIGALI CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have called for the government of President Laurent Kabila to halt a military offensive in the country's northwest. As Todd Pitman reports from Kigali in neighboring Rwanda, the Congo rebels say the offensive could endanger the lives of thousands of foreign troops who support the government. TEXT: The spokesman for the main rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (Kin-Kiey Mulumba) reported what he calls "very bloody" fighting (Wednesday) between rebels and government troops near the town of Bokungu, about one-thousand kilometers northeast of the capital, Kinshasa. Rebel officials say government forces are trying to break through rebel lines to liberate up to three- thousand Zimbabwean, Namibian, and Congolese troops backing President Kabila. Rebels say they have surrounded the troops at an airport in Ikela, a small town in rebel territory. Mr. Mulumba says the encircled troops are in good condition and even have become friendly with rebel soldiers in the area. But Mr. Mulumba says their lives may be threatened if government attacks continue. Fighting around Bokungu broke out last week when government troops, equipped with helicopter gunships as well as gunboats, launched a series of attacks against rebel positions in the area. During the past few days the fighting has intensified. Bokungu was bombed by a government-allied cargo plane Tuesday, was captured by government forces, and then recaptured by rebels. Diplomatic efforts to provide a safe passage for the encircled soldiers have failed. A senior Rwandan delegation recently met Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in Harare to discuss the subject, but there was no breakthrough. Rwandan and rebel officials say Zimbabwe rejected an offer to allow government-allied troops to leave on foot through a safe corridor to the north, in part because they would be required to leave their equipment and weapons behind. The rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda, and the government supported by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, signed a peace deal three-months ago in the Zambian capital, Lusaka. But each side in the 15-month conflict has repeatedly accused the other of violating the accord, which now seems to exist only on paper. (SIGNED) NEB/TP/JWH/RAE 01-Dec-1999 11:28 AM EDT (01-Dec-1999 1628 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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