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TROOPS SUPPORTING KABILA PREPARE TO SHIFT FIGHTING TO REBEL TERRITORY

Troops fighting on behalf of President Laurent Kabila are prepared to take Congo's civil war to the heart of rebel-held territory in the east, a government official said.

Abdoulaye Yerodia, Kabila's Cabinet director, said a counter-offensive was in the works to move the war in Congo away from the capital of Kinshasa and into rebel-dominated terrain.

"Our Angolan and Zimbabwean allies are here to kick out the Rwanda-Ugandan aggressors," Yerodia said, even if it takes them to Congo's border with Rwanda.

Joao de Matos, Angolan army chief of staff, said his troops were prepared for the advance.

"The only way for life to become normal is to end this conflict," he said. "We are ready to move east to do that."

A rebel coalition backed by Rwanda and Uganda had been poised just weeks ago to topple Kabila's government and capture Kinshasa. But Kabila regrouped and enlisted the help of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Meanwhile, Angolan troops and tanks rumbled into the strategic Congo River port of Matadi in the southwest after the rebel forces deserted their positions.

The loss of Matadi, one of the last rebel strongholds in the southwest, is a blow to the insurgents.

A fire at Matadi's port raged in one warehouse, but the shipping facility was otherwise undamaged, and city streets were deserted.

Several gunmen from Angola's UNITA rebel force were arrested in Matadi, confirming suspicions that Congo's insurgents had been cooperating with UNITA.

Angolan troops also were in control of a massive power dam at the town of Inga, which provides electricity to much of southwestern Congo and the neighboring Republic of Congo.

Electricity in Kinshasa was still off due to a technical fault in the power lines linking the capital to Inga, the dam's director said.

The rebels acknowledged the loss of Matadi and Inga.

"We have tactically withdrawn from Matadi and Inga so our forces can concentrate on Kinshasa," rebel leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba said.

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