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Rebels Attack Military Base in Republic of Congo; 60 Killed

June 15, 2002|From Times Wire Services

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo — Rebels on Friday launched their first attack on Brazzaville since restarting this West African nation's civil war in March, and an army spokesman said 52 rebels, four army officers and four civilians were killed.

State radio said at least 37 civilians were injured by cross-fire. Government troops and the rebels fought with automatic arms and heavier weapons at the southern end of the capital city, as hundreds of residents fled, carrying suitcases and mattresses.

The firing began about 3 a.m., but calm had returned by midmorning.

Army officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rebels had targeted the city's main military base, not far from the Maya Maya international airport.

"The Ninjas' objective was to destroy our attack helicopters," one officer said. "But they failed; none of the aircraft were touched."

Led by a renegade pastor, Frederic Bitsangou, the rebels call themselves the Ninjas after the ancient Japanese warriors. They are demanding a role in military and political decisions and have refused to abide by a 1999 cease-fire.

Residents saw armed Ninja militia members stripped to the waist, wearing what they believe are magic charms around their necks in an attempt to ward off bullets. Some government loyalists fought in jeans and T-shirts, their faces smudged with charcoal.

The rebels launched attacks March 29--just two weeks after elections ratified President Denis Sassou-Nguesso's hold on power, which he took by force in 1997.

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