Forces loyal to President Laurent Kabila fighting rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have retaken two towns at different ends of the eastern war front, officials said on Saturday.
Information Minister Didier Mumenge reported that loyalist forces recaptured Buta to the north of the rebel-held third city of Kisangani."The (government) forces have effectively taken Buta. The rebels have fled," Mumengi said, adding that the town returned to government control on Saturday morning.
Kabila's communications adviser, Dominique Sakombi, said that government forces took the town of Kabalo, much further south, on Friday. "Yesterday, we were in Kabalo," he said.
With the rebels saying that they were poised to capture the diamond town of Mbuji-Mayi to the west of Kabalo, the government saying it was still firmly in control there and no independent confirmation, the picture on the war front remained unclear.
The extent of any role played by Kabila's allies in the fighting was also unclear.
Kabila accuses Rwanda and Uganda, who helped him topple veteran dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 after a bush war, of invading in support of the rebels.
The rebels, who took up arms Aug. 2, control most of the major towns in the east.
Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia helped Kabila fend off a rebel attempt to capture Kinshasa in August and pledged on Wednesday to take the war to the rebels in the east.
Chad has also sent Kabila troops, who have been reported in the north.
Mumengi said that government forces were focusing on another major town. He declined to elaborate.
The rebels captured the strategic town of Kindu between Kisangani and Kabalo on Oct. 12. Kindu had been the government's forward base in the east.
The rebels captured 16 Zimbabwean troops in or near Kabalo on Oct. 19.
Government officials have declined to confirm reports of 2,000 extra troops arriving from Zimbabwe to add to the 3,000 already in the former Zaire.
Kabila wants an immediate withdrawal of Rwandan and Ugandan troops as a condition for peace talks. Both countries deny involvement in the conflict but say they have security concerns in the east.