Residents report attack on Congolese airport

Suspected secessionist rebels attacked Lubumbashi airport in mineral-rich southern Congo on Friday, sparking a three-hour shootout with soldiers that left a civilian guard dead, residents said.

Information Minister Lambert Mende confirmed the attack but said the gunmen had not been identified.

The attackers descended on the airport around 4 a.m. Friday, and soldiers rushed in reinforcements to drive them off. A civilian guard was killed and an army captain wounded, according to residents who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.

A businessman at the airport said none of the 18 aircraft was targeted or damaged, and flights had resumed at the airport by midday.

"The situation is calm and the airport is open to traffic," Mende said.

Flights at Lubumbashi's international airport carry mining executives and others between African capitals. After the airport reopened Monday, a cargo plane took off for Europe and other planes left for Kinshasa, Congo's capital, and Lusaka, capital of neighboring Zambia, while a Kenyan Airways flight from Nairobi landed.

Lubumbashi was put on alert last May against an alleged destabilization plot by secessionists based in neighboring Angola.

Congo's Katanga province is home to a third of the world's cobalt and 10 percent of its copper reserves.

The descendants of the so-called Katanga Tigers, secessionists who fled and fought in Angola in the 1960s, have reconstituted the movement demanding independence for Katanga. They are now known as the FLNC, a French acronym for the Front for Congolese National Liberation.