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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Civilians Flee Congo as Shells Fall in Capital

KINSHASA, Congo -- Civilians fled the Repubic of Congo capital Brazzaville on Tuesday as southern districts controlled by presidential forces came under attack by militiamen serving an ex-military strongman, witnesses said.


Dozens of fleeing people arrived in the Congo, formerly Zaire, aboard pirogues across the Congo River. Many of the refugees said they came from the Makele-Kele and Bacongo areas.


These districts have come under fire in clashes pitting President Pascal Lissouba and Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas against ex-president Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has strongholds in the north and center of the city.


"Shells are falling all the time" on Makele-Kele, said Luali Nabe, one Brazzaville resident.


"We've come here because in Makele-Kele, it's no good anymore."


Witnesses said that on Monday a MiG-21 warplane carried out two raids on southern Brazzaville, killing about 20 people in Makele-Kele, mostly soldiers in the Makala camp, and striking a market in Bacongo, where no casualties were reported.


The two districts had until last week been almost entirely spared the civil war that has ravaged the rest of Brazzaville since June. However, they have since become a target for General Sassou Nguesso's Cobra militiamen.


The Cobras have changed tactics since the Ninja militia force loyal to Kolelas clearly sided with Lissouba's armed forces and Zoulou militia in the fighting.


Fleeing residents, however, indicated that anarchy had broken out and the Ninja forces were looting the houses of Congolese people and expatriate residents as well as fighting.


"Bacongo and Makele-Kele are emptying," another refugee, Pierre Muaka, said as he arrived here on a motorized dugout with his wife.


"The Ninjas are wildly raiding abandoned houses. I think that's what they wanted."


One refugee said his compatriots had been told that Sassou Nguesso's Cobras would take control of the whole of the south of Brazzaville within the next 48 hours.


The people fleeing to Kinshasa also included residents of the former Zaire returning to their homeland, where President Laurent Kabila seized power last May, ousting dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. As the exodus gathered force on Tuesday, two shells from Brazzaville hit Kinshasa, one of them wounding a Belgian national who was rushed away for treatment.