Congolese rebels advance on eastern air base

ELILA BRIDGE, Congo (AP) — A day after shooting down a jetliner carrying 40 people, rebels clashed with government troops near a strategic airstrip in eastern Congo on Sunday.
Fighting for the town of Kindu in this vast West African nation subsided after rebels launched an artillery barrage into government-held buildings and the airfield, two miles away.
On Saturday, the rebels shot down a Congolese Boeing 727 over the Kindu airport. Rescue workers said there were no survivors from the downed plane, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Sunday.
Rebels said the airplane was landing 40 troops and ammunition. In the capital, Kinshasa, the private Congolese Airlines, which owned the aircraft, said the victims were civilians fleeing fighting in Kindu.
Rebel commander Fino Kabangu Kalunga said surface-to-air missiles in the arsenal of his Congolese Democratic Coalition had prevented the government from landing aircraft at the airport.
Kabangu Kalunga said a total of 3,500 rebel troops and their Rwandan allies had closed in on government forces from three directions after a week of fighting. He said government troops did not launch a counterattack to Sunday’s barrage, and some reportedly retreated on the one road leading out of town.