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Kabila Ousts Army Chief; Rebels Reportedly Cut Congo Capital’s Power

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<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

President Laurent Kabila has sacked his newly appointed army chief because of his conduct of a widening war with rebels, officials said Thursday.

They did not say when Kabila dismissed army chief Celestine Kifwa, a brother-in-law of the president who took over from Rwandan James Kabera, sacked last month.

Meanwhile, rebels reportedly captured a power transformer in western Congo on Thursday, pitching the capital into darkness, cutting off the state’s stream of propaganda and fueling speculation of an imminent takeover of Kinshasa.

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Western diplomats and rebel spokesmen said rebel fighters had captured the town of Inga, about 135 miles southwest of the capital, where the primary power transformer for Kinshasa is located.

Heavy fighting also was reported in Matadi, about 30 miles south of Inga, where authorities had earlier warned people to stay indoors.

A commander in the rebel stronghold of Goma, in eastern Congo, said his forces had captured the Matadi airport and the Inga power plant. The rebels also said some of their troops had advanced as far as Kasangalu, 18 miles southwest of the capital.

The claims could not be confirmed.

“The objective is Kinshasa. It should fall in the next few days, by the end of the week or by the end of the month for sure,” rebel commander Jean-Pierre Ondekane said in Goma.

Congo government and rebel forces have both launched ambitious radio campaigns claiming battlefield victories since Tutsi forces launched the rebellion earlier this month to topple Kabila.

Congo accuses neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of masterminding the uprising, which has spread from Congo’s eastern reaches to several points southwest of the capital. Both countries vehemently deny involvement.

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Tutsis have gone into hiding in Kinshasa as calls on state radio to massacre the enemy fuel a growing anger against all Tutsis--Rwandan and otherwise.

“People must bring a machete, a spear, an arrow, a hoe, spades, rakes, nails, truncheons, electric irons, barbed wire, stones and the like, in order, dear listeners, to kill the Rwandan Tutsis,” a state radio station in the eastern Congolese town of Bunia said Wednesday.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon told reporters that two Marine amphibious warships had been dispatched to the Atlantic waters off Congo in case they are needed to evacuate U.S. citizens from the country.

It will take nine or 10 days for the ships to reach Congo, Bacon said.

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