Angola announced Wednesday it is prepared to send troops to neighboring Congo, heightening fears that the fighting in the central African nation will engulf other countries in the region.
Angolan Deputy Foreign Minister Georges Chicoty did not say how many troops might go to Congo or what their mission would be, and it was unclear whether they would be acting as peacekeepers or supporting the government in its fight against rebels led by former general Laurent Nkunda.
The presence of Angolan soldiers in the volatile region would likely be seen as a provocation to Rwanda, which battled Angolans during Congo's 1998-2002 war. At the time, Angola and Zimbabwe sent tanks and fighter planes to back Congo's government in exchange for access to lucrative diamond and copper mines to the south and west.
Congo asked Angola for political and military support Oct. 29, as Nkunda's rebels advanced on the provincial capital, Goma. Associated Press reporters have already seen Portuguese-speaking soldiers wearing green berets with pins in the shape of Angola appearing to guard a road alongside Congolese soldiers.
Fighting in Congo intensified in August and has since displaced at least 250,000 people despite the presence of the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world.
A rare nighttime gunbattle erupted late Tuesday between rebels and the army just north of Goma, at Kibati, where at least 75,000 people have sought refuge.
North of Kibati on Wednesday, the bodies of two dead government soldiers lay in the center of the road beside a rebel checkpoint.
Rebels, standing in the shade of trees on both sides of the road, had positioned the corpses on their backs, using them as a makeshift roadblock. One body had a bullet hole in his forehead. Neither had boots.
A few civilians walked past nervously.
One of them, 18-year-old John Biamungu, said he and his family had spent the night in a banana field after the shooting erupted.
“We walked past and the rebels said to us, “What are you looking at?” Biamungu said. “We didn't say anything. We kept moving.”