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FIGHTING FLARES IN CONGO'S CAPITAL AMID GAINS BY GOVERNMENT, ALLIES

The staccato crack of automatic weapons fire mixed with the muffled thud of mortar rounds near central Kinshasa Saturday evening, shattering what had been a largely quiet day in Congo's capital.

Firefights on the city's west side, near the downtown area, broke out shortly before a nightly curfew went into effect at 6.

On the other side of Kinshasa, where rebels and government forces fought fiercely for days, fighting tapered off to little more than sporadic machine-gun fire. Decaying corpses littered the streets, providing a sense of the mounting human toll in the central African nation's civil war.

"There are many dead in the area," Health Minister Jean-Baptist Sondgi said. "It's a terrible scene of bodies here and there."

Rebel leaders in the eastern city of Goma have been silent in recent days amid growing indications that their assault on the capital was facing tough resistance from troops loyal to President Laurent Kabila and his Angolan, Zimbabwean and Namibian allies.

But a defiant rebel commander said Saturday the effort to oust Kabila is still alive, despite recent losses.

"They say the war is over, but I say the war in not finished," Jean-Pierre Ondekane said in his eastern stronghold of Goma. "We're in Kinshasa fighting. The situation is going well."

Through their control of a key power dam, the rebels continued to deny electricity to the city, and a dusk-to-dawn curfew remained in effect. Most shops were closed, but more people ventured into the streets after days in hiding.

Government officials say hundreds of insurgents -- a coalition of ethnic Tutsi fighters and disaffected members of the Congolese military -- have been captured in recent days. The Interior Ministry earlier said as many as 1,000 rebel fighters had been caught.

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