Fighting Intensifies In Zaire

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GOMA, Zaire: The world's biggest refugee camp is becoming even bigger. After Tutsi rebels battled with Zairian troops, tens of thousands of refugees fled towards the Mungunga camp near Goma that is already home to over 400,000 people. The region is the main food supply area for several refugee camps in the area which hold more than 700,000. The region's only airport, vital for troop movements and resupply, was closed Thursday after heavy shelling, and may now be in either side's hands. The Zairian government is trying to expel Tutsi tribes who have settled in eastern Zaire for at least 200 years, and are periodically supported by their allies in the Tutsi-dominated army of Zaire's neighbor Rwanda. Thursday's fighting started just after the World Food Program announced an emergency food airlift would arrive through Goma's airport. Now indefinitely postponed, the airlift will have to wait. The fighting comes as Zaire's strongman leader, President Mobutu, lays dying in a Swiss hospital, gradually releasing his grip on the nation he has held together for the last 30 years. "Some of Zaire's regional warlords are interested in establishing independent or semi-independent fiefdoms," says TIME's Kevin Fedarko. "The only way the Zairian capital, Kinshasa, can supply or reinforce the provinces of North and South Kivu are through three airstrips, one of which is under siege, one in rebel hands, and one under the guns of the Rwandan army, which could capture all three in about 20 minutes. Without these airstrips, North and South Kivu are essentially no longer part of Zaire. The iron fist of Mobutu does not extend as far as Kivu." With Mobutu's hold slipping away, Zaire, a country the size of Western Europe, stands a good chance of fragmenting. --Terence Nelan