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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Curfew Imposed as Rebels Approach Kinshasa

KINSHASA, Zaire -- Acknowledging that the rebels are closer than ever to the capital, Zaire's embattled government said Tuesday it was imposing a strict dusk-to-dawn curfew on Kinshasa.

He said the rebels were between Kenge and Kinshasa, which seemed to confirm diplomatic reports that rebel and government troops were battling over a bridge on the Kwango river, 160 kilometers east of the capital.

During the curfew, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., government troops would maintain surveillance over the city's "strategic areas" and open fire on looters, Information minister Kin-Keiy Mulumba told reporters.

"There will be identification controls, and the forces of order have been ordered to open fire on anyone flagrant pillaging after three summary warnings," he said after a meeting of the Security Council.

He said government forces was preparing to defend the capital, and called on civilians to take up arms against the rebels.

"The Zairean Army Forces are determined to defend their just cause and will defend Kinshasa and its environs," Kin-Keiy said.

"The government signals that the population has the legitimate right to defend itself with proportional means to the rebels," the information minister said.

The curfew was declared the city after opponents called for a "ville morte" [dead city] strike from Wednesday until Friday.

Kin-Keiy said that the rebels approaching Kinshasa were reinforced by troops and arms from neighboring countries, notably Angola. There was no way of confirming this.

A rebel spokesman said the rebels were close to the capital, but was not sure how close.

"I believe we will be able to clarify the situation, including the military situation, tomorrow after the talks," said Raphael Ghenda, speaking in Lubumbashi. Previously, the rebels have claimed to be as close as 50 kilometers from Kinshasa.

The increased alert came on the eve of planned talks between ailing President Mobutu Sese Seko and rebel leader Laurent Kabila, to take place under South African mediation of the coast of the Congo on Wednesday.

U.S. Ambassador Daniel Howard Simpson, who met with Zairean Prime Minister Likulia Bolongo on Tuesday morning, called the Mobutu-Kabila talks "very important."

"The obvious question is how does one transfer power in Kinshasa without bloodshed," he said.

Kabila and Mobutu were due to meet aboard a South African ship moored in the Atlantic Ocean off of Pointe-Noire, Congo, where they met on May 4.

Agreement on two major issues must be reached -- the composition of a transitional authority, and when Mobutu will retire as president and leave the country.

Mobutu has refused to quit immediately, saying he would give up the presidency only after elections to choose a new leader. The rebels insist Mobutu must resign now and surrender power to a transitional authority led by Kabila, or face a rebel attack on Kinshasa.

South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, the talks leading mediator, delayed his departure for the boat until late Tuesday, apparently in an effort to get Kabila and Mobutu to agree on principal issues before the talks began.

Wednesday's talks would likely by the last chance for a peaceful solution to the seven-month Zairean crisis, Mbeki had said earlier.

When Simpson was asked if it was the last chance for peace, he responded, "I hope there are never any last chances for peace."