Heavy fighting in the city of Kananga in central Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed many lives, sources said. The violence erupted on Thursday and continued into Friday, with attacks on the city’s airport by supporters of a tribal chief, Kamwena Nsapu, who was killed in August by the military, they said.
“There was a bust-up in Kananga but calm returned in the late afternoon,” DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP.
“We are having a meeting to assess the situation,” he said.
At least 10 people were killed, according to an incomplete AFP toll compiled from various sources. A Western military source put the number of fatalities between 10 and 20.
“We have recorded seven military dead and 40 dead among the attackers,” an aide to the governor of Kasai-Central province, of which Kananga is the capital, said on condition of anonymity.
Two journalists and an NGO official, reached by phone from the DRC capital Kinshasa, said that the rebels had taken the airport and were surrounded by troops.
The airport is a vital facility, providing the only reliable access to a remote location where roads are few and decrepit.
Mende added that a female flight attendant with the national airline, Congo Airways, was among the dead.
The vast central African country, a former Belgian colony, is chronically unstable and is the theatre of conflict between many rival groups.
Nsapu, from the Luba ethnic group of central Africa, had returned to the DRC in April after living for a while in South Africa, and began opposing the central government and its representatives, according to reports.
The government in Kinshasa is also in the grip of a political crisis.
Rioting and protests against President Joseph Kabila on Monday and Tuesday claimed at least 50 lives, according to the UN.