The government Monday rejected a U.N. appeal for a truce in the war in eastern Zaire and, vowing to crush the rebels there, dispatched warplanes to bomb at least one guerrilla-held town.
Three Zairian planes dropped bombs on Bukavu, on the border with Rwanda. Aid workers reached by telephone there reported that three planes dropped four bombs, including one that landed on the town’s market. They said up to nine people were killed.
The attack was the first confirmed air raid by Zaire in the 4-month-old war.
Zaire’s Defense Ministry said its planes also bombed two towns west of Bukavu held by the rebels, who have seized a broad swath of the country, but there were no direct reports from the towns.
The bombing, plus a direct rebuff to a United Nations envoy seeking a truce, appeared to signal that President Mobutu Sese Seko has, for now, rejected advice from some of his supporters that he should negotiate with the rebels.
A Defense Ministry spokesman, Leon Kalima, said in Kinshasa, the capital, that Zairian planes “delivered surgical strikes that struck only military targets.” Brenda Barton, of the U.N. World Food Program’s office in Bukavu, said, however, that one bomb there hit the town’s market and another landed about 50 yards from her office.
Kalima said planes also bombed Shabunda, and on the outskirts of Walikale, where government forces have been fighting to halt a rebel thrust toward Kisangani, the largest city in eastern Zaire.
Zaire insists that there is no real rebellion, but that a few Zairians, including rebel leader Laurent Kabila, are serving as a cover for an invasion by troops from neighboring Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
Kabila has sworn to topple Mobutu, who has ruled Zaire for more than 30 years. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi have had long-standing grievances with Mobutu.