Congo rebels take Brazzaville airport
Whereabouts of President Pascal Lissouba uncertain
October 14, 1997
Web posted at: 2:32 p.m. EDT (1832 GMT)
In this story:
BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (CNN) -- Former military
leader Denis Sassou-Nguesso's Cobra militia attacked the presidential palace in the capital city of Brazzaville on
Tuesday after capturing the international airport, witnesses
With the battle for the capital of the oil-producing former
French colony heating up, hundreds of residents of the
government-held southern suburbs fled or lined up to flee in
dugout canoes for Kinshasa, capital of the neighboring
Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).
The whereabouts of President Pascal Lissouba,
Sassou-Nguesso's rival in a bloody four-month power
struggle, were not immediately clear.
In Kinshasa itself, witnesses said four shells from
Brazzaville crashed into a residential area, seriously
wounding a Belgian woman.
Sassou-Nguesso's militia was in control of Brazzaville's
main airport terminal, the control tower and the heavily
disputed runway -- strategic and symbolic targets in the
"We retook the airport three days ago," said a Cobra
commander at the site of what remains of the airport.
Witnesses reported clouds of smoke rising from around the
riverside presidential palace and the sound of heavy machine
gun fire from the area.
The southern suburbs, particularly the Bacongo neighborhood
stronghold of Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, have been a
haven for civilians fleeing fighting that has devastated
other parts of the city.
Relief workers say thousands of inhabitants of Bacongo and
other civilian enclaves had made the short two-kilometer
(one-mile) river journey to Kinshasa in the past two days.
The conflict, which began on June 5 when Lissouba soldiers
surrounded Sassou-Nguesso's home in a pre-election crackdown
on private militia, has escalated since Sassou-Nguesso's
forces launched an offensive inside and outside Brazzaville
on October 7.
The conflict has killed several thousand people in
Brazzaville, many of them civilians hit by indiscriminate
shelling. Mediation efforts by neighboring Gabon and the
United Nations have foundered on differences over power
Fighting has spread to the south of the country, sending
shockwaves through the port and oil capital of Pointe-Noire.
Persistent reports say that Angolan government troops have
intervened in the south on Sassou's side. Other reports
suggest that Angola's former civil war rivals, UNITA, are
fighting alongside Lissouba's forces.
Last weekend, Kolelas' previously neutral Ninja militia
joined in on Lissouba's side in a bid to drive
Sassou-Nguesso's forces back from the airport.
Sassou-Nguesso loyalists accuse Lissouba forces of targeting
Kinshasa to draw President Laurent Kabila and his Democratic
Republic of the Congo into the conflict.
Reuters contributed to this report.