Fighting June 8

08Jun2000 CONGO: UPDATE 5-Civilians suffer in agony of Kisangani. 20:42 GMT

By Todd Pitman

KISANGANI, Congo, June 8 (Reuters) - Ugandan and Rwandan troops battered the Congolese city of Kisangani with artillery fire for a fourth straight day on Thursday, ignoring ceasefire demands and heaping new agony on its civilian population.

At a hospital in the diamond-rich city, dozens of wounded people and their relatives crouched in hallways as mortar bombs exploded nearby.

Young children were among them, some with shell and bullet fragments in their heads and bodies.

Working without anaesthetics, adequate supplies of blood or even clean needles, surgeons pulled shrapnel out of one man's stomach and amputated another's leg.

Outside, intense shelling and machinegun fire echoed across the city as Rwandan and Ugandan troops attacked each other's positions throughout the afternoon.

The presidents of Uganda and Rwanda agreed under heavy international pressure to a U.N.-brokered ceasefire starting at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT) but fighting continued into the night.

Hours after the ceasefire was supposed to begin, the rival armies waged fierce machinegun battles near the city centre and sporadic artillery fire could still be heard. U.N. officials said the real test would come early on Friday.

At least 50 civilians have been killed in the clashes that began on Monday with the two occupying armies destroying a city they both claim to be liberating.

The head of a U.N. team trying to broker a ceasefire earlier condemned local commanders on both sides for the carnage.

"They are committing a genocide against the city," said Lieutenant-Colonel Danilo Paiva, force commander for an unarmed, 20-man U.N. military team based here. "They are destroying the city and they must be held responsible for their actions."

Rwanda and Uganda used to be staunch allies, but now support different rebel factions fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have clashed several times for control of Kisangani, a key centre of the country's diamond trade.

At least 15 ceasefires have been agreed and then quickly abandoned in the last four days.

"There's no military purpose to it," Paiva said as Ugandan shells whistled over the city cathedral compound sheltering the U.N. headquarters and around 60 civilians, including some wounded.


"This war could be fought in the jungle. The soldiers are very safe in their trenches. The ones who are dying are the civilian population," Paiva said.

On Thursday morning, dozens of Ugandan shells rained down on residential neighbourhoods on both banks of the mighty Congo river, sending plumes of grey and black smoke into the sky.

Many bombs exploded in the river itself, while a Rwandan artillery battery positioned on the south bank of the river returned fire.

Both armies have long been unpopular in Kisangani and the latest round of fighting has deepened the resentment.

"Somebody has to do something. Who gave these foreigners the right to fight in our country? We want them to leave but nobody is doing anything," said Eric Kambale, a 23-year-old student with a bullet lodged in his upper right thigh.

"This morning I went out to get water - we haven't had any food or water for four days - and I got hit," he said, crouching on a dirty foam mattress at the city's University Hospital.

Congolese President Laurent Kabila, whose government is at war with the rebel factions backed by Uganda and Rwanda, called on the world to demand that both nations pull out of the Congo.

"We are asking the international community to make the occupiers go home," he told state television in the capital Kinshasa.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was in touch with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Thursday and won their support for the new ceasefire agreement.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York that both leaders also pledged to withdraw their forces from Kisangani under a previously agreed plan to demilitarise the city.

But it was not clear if the ceasefire would even take hold.

The United Nations is trying to deploy a team of monitors at the Tshopo river bridge, scene of fierce street-to-street fighting, but Paiva said the team could only deploy after both sides held their fire for at least one hour.

The U.N. military team went to Kisangani initially to monitor a ceasefire in the wider Congolese conflict, which pits Rwanda, Uganda and their rebel allies against government troops supported by Zimbabwean, Angolan and Namibian soldiers.

Rwandan mortar fire levelled one of the U.N.'s four villas in the city on Tuesday, while Ugandan guns destroyed another U.N. villa on Wednesday.

Residents and U.N. monitors said food and vital medical supplies were running dangerously low, especially for the civilians trapped in the fighting.

(C) Reuters Limited 2000.