BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo — Fresh gun battles and occasional shelling threatened Thursday to derail a cease-fire between soldiers and a private militia, while French troops scrambled to rescue foreigners still caught in the anarchy of this Central African country.
While the fierce battles of the past week had subsided, fighting still shook the capital, Brazzaville, gaining in intensity through the afternoon. Both sides appeared to be girding for further clashes.
About two dozen government soldiers positioned themselves in a ditch near the French Embassy behind a line of mounted assault rifles, ready to respond to attacks.
The radio station of militia leader Gen. Denis Sassou-Nguesso resumed anti-government broadcasts Thursday and claimed that he was in control of 75% of the city. But a French military spokesman said the figure was closer to 50%.
President Pascal Lissouba and Sassou-Nguesso announced a truce Wednesday following a week of clashes that began when Lissouba attempted to disarm former dictator Sassou-Nguesso's private militia.
The two have been bitter rivals for years, and tensions have increased in the run-up to July presidential elections in which both are candidates.
Lissouba, who defeated Sassou-Nguesso in 1992 elections, said he wanted to immobilize Sassou-Nguesso's men to prevent campaign violence. Sassou-Nguesso accused Lissouba of trying to spark clashes so he would have an excuse to delay the vote and retain power.
Few civilians appeared to have any faith in the cease-fire. The streets were deserted except for heavily armed gunmen and convoys of well-protected French soldiers seeking to assist foreigners.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, the last army chief under exiled Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was laid to rest on Thursday.
Gen. Marc Mahele Lieko Bokungu was killed by a member of Mobutu's presidential guard on the eve of the May 17 capture of Kinshasa, the capital, by President Laurent Kabila's rebel forces. Kabila renamed the nation when he assumed control.
Witnesses said a student at the funeral ceremony in Kinshasa was shot to death while trying to wrest a gun from a soldier. The incident sparked protests.