Zaire vows to intensify bombing, rules out talks

KINSHASA, Zaire (AP) — Government forces bombed three rebel-held towns in eastern Zaire on Monday and vowed to intensify the attacks, which witnesses said killed at least six people. It was the sharpest escalation yet in the five-month war.
The towns of Bukavu, Walikale and Shabunda were bombed, said Defense Ministry spokesman Leon Kalima. He gave no casualty figures but urged civilians to leave rebel-held areas.
“These bombardments will continue and intensify,” Kalima said.
Aid workers said six people were killed and at least 20 wounded in Bukavu.
“These numbers could grow,” said Brenda Barton, a spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program, based in Nairobi, Kenya. “There’s a panic in the town,” and many people are fleeing, she said.
There were no immediate casualty reports from Shabunda and Walikale, two other towns under the control of Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, which began fighting Zairian troops in September. Kabila started the war after Zaire threatened to expel Tutsis who had lived for decades in eastern Zaire.
In Kalemie, 300 miles south of Bukavu, Kabila condemned the attacks as a “terrorist action” and said his army was preparing “to bring the war where these planes are coming from.”
He said the Zairian planes came from Kindu, 200 miles west of Bukavu, one of two airports in eastern Zaire controlled by the government.
Kabila said the government was trying to demoralize the population, telling The Associated Press that there were no specific military targets in the areas that were bombed.
Since the fighting began, Kabila has routed government troops from the swath of land bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. President Mobutu Sese Seko has rejected international calls for negotiations to end the conflict and vowed to press ahead with a counteroffensive launched in January from the eastern city of Kisangani, about 300 miles northwest of Bukavu.
Reporters and aid workers visiting Kisangani in the past few weeks have reported seeing Mi-24 combat gunships and warplanes, apparently piloted by mercenaries from eastern Europe.
“We have the means to win,” Mobutu’s prime minister, Leon Kengo wa Dondo, told parliament on Saturday. Parliament met again in closed session Monday to discuss the idea of negotiations, which opposition parties support. But Kengo said they were out of the question.
Foreign diplomats and Zairian political observers say Mobutu, ailing with prostate cancer and holed up at his isolated home village of Gbadolite, is coming under increased pressure from his own party to open talks with Kabila but has refused to give the go-ahead.
But Kabila indicated that his offer to negotiate may be withdrawn following the air strikes. “If this continues, there will be no need for negotiations anymore,” he said.
In a statement Monday, following a visit to Gbadolite by U.N. special envoy Mohamed Sahnoun, the government repeated its opposition to negotiations or a cease-fire and accused the United Nations of ignoring what it called a “campaign of extermination” against Rwandan Hutu refugees on its soil.
No talks could take place without the simultaneous departure of all foreign troops from Zaire, Foreign Minister Gerard Kamanda wa Kamanda said in the statement.
Zaire says the Tutsi-led governments of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi provide Kabila with soldiers, machines and weapons as part of a plan to wipe out the majority Hutus, who have traditionally been supported by Zaire’s government. The three countries deny the allegations.