Kabila's whereabouts a mystery as rebels advance on KinshasaAugust 14, 1998
Web posted at: 7:29 p.m. EDT (2329 GMT)
KINSHASA, Congo (CNN) - As rebels move toward Kinshasa, edging civilians toward panic, President Laurent Kabila has dropped out of public view, and there are reports that he has fled the Congolese capital.
Kabila, who took power 15 months ago at the head of a rebel army, has not been seen in public since early in the week. A senior Kabila adviser told The Associated Press on Friday that the president had left Kinshasa, while another aide said he was still in the capital, holed up in the presidential palace.
An army made up of disenchanted government troops, ethnic Tutsi rebels and Rwandan soldiers is marching toward Kinshasa from Congo's western coastline, vowing to depose Kabila.
Friday afternoon, the power came on again in the capital after a nearly 24-hour blackout that silenced government television and radio and cut off the city's water supply.
A senior rebel commander in the coastal town of Muanda, Munyapenda Kayoya, said the blackout was caused when a rebel assault damaged part of the Inga hydroelectric station, about 216 kilometers (135 miles) down the Congo River from Kinshasa. He said rebels now control the station and were responsible for restoring power to Kinshasa.
Kayoya said the rebels now hold all of the area from the Atlantic coast up the Congo River about 110 kilometers (70 miles) to Matadi -- roughly one-third of the way from the sea to Kinshasa.
Asked when the rebels expected to be in the capital, he said, "Sooner than last time," a reference to the 1997 march of Kabila's rebel army, which swept from the eastern part of the country into Kinshasa in seven months, deposing longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Many of those who fought with Kabila then have joined the rebellion against him, including his foreign minister, Bizima Karaha.
In Kinshasa Friday, thousands of people packed sidewalk shops to buy extra provisions and bottled water, anticipating the coming fall of the city.
"Only God knows what's going to happen if the rebels arrive," said Mbala Nsiala, a shop owner. "We hear so many stories, but nobody knows what's going on."
Truckloads of uniformed loyalist troops rumbled through the main streets, and a military helicopter buzzed overhead. Government soldiers -- some clearly drunk and angry -- roamed neighborhoods, checking papers and extracting "fees" from store owners.
The primary exit route out of the city, across the Congo River to Brazzaville, capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo, was closed days ago. International airlines have stopped service to Kinshasa.
"This is the end," said Jean-Pierre Mwenge, standing in a crowd of people searching for a way out of the city. "Now I'm alone, and this will be the end."
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