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U.N. staff kidnapped in Africa

Members of a former ruling junta kidnapped more than two dozen U.N. military observers, aid workers, members of a regional intervention force and journalists, witnesses said Thursday.

The soldiers released two of the hostages Thursday night with demands for food, medicine and political influence.

The freed hostages, Reuters reporter Christo Johnson and an unidentified civilian member of the U.N. military observer team, walked 6 miles from the isolated village where they were held to a highway checkpoint, where they were picked up by soldiers with the regional force.

Johnson said the rebels promised to release the remaining 28 hostages once their demands were met. "We were well treated, although at first we were held at gunpoint," he said.

The freed hostages were sent to Freetown with letters for the government of the U.N. observer mission and U.S. officials.

While contents of the letters were not released, Johnson said the soldiers feel betrayed by rebel leader Foday Sankoh, with whom they were once allied and who recently signed a peace agreement ending Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war.

They asked that President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah use his influence to get Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front rebels to free junta leader Lt. Col. Johnny Paul Koroma. They asked that Koroma be flown to Freetown to broadcast a radio appeal asking them to lay down their arms.

The civil war devastated Sierra Leone. Tens of thousands of people were killed and many more were raped or maimed by the rebels, who waged a campaign of terror to try to unseat Kabbah.

Report of bombing puts

Congo peace in doubt

KIGALI, Rwanda _ Two Congolese rebel groups said Thursday they were reconsidering their commitment to a fragile peace process after one rebel group reported that 524 people were killed in a government bombing raid on two villages.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a leader of one of the rebel groups, said 390 civilians and 134 of his fighters were killed Wednesday when two aircraft dropped 18 bombs on the Congo River fishing villages of Makanza and Bogbonga.

There was no independent confirmation of Bemba's account.

Bemba signed a peace agreement Sunday with President Laurent Kabila and his allies.

The main rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy, has not signed the agreement. Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the group, said it is reconsidering whether it should.

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