updated 5/31/2004 10:19:50 AM ET 2004-05-31T14:19:50

Gunmen loyal to a former rebel commander surrounded the airport in eastern Congo’s main city of Goma on Monday and U.N. forces there took government officials, including one of the country’s vice presidents, under their protection, the United Nations said.

Fighters supporting Laurent Nkunda, a commander in the former rebel group that used to control this city, surrounded the airport early Monday as Vice President Azarias Ruberwa was preparing to fly to another eastern Congolese town, U.N. radio reported.

Ruberwa and other government officials were scheduled to head to Bukavu on Monday in a bid to help end fighting between rival factions of the army in that eastern Congolese town, which has killed at least 12 people.

U.N. troops were in control of the airport in Goma, but flights were suspended, U.N. workers said.

It was not clear immediately clear if the fighting in Bukavu and the incidents in Goma were related.

Nkunda, who’s fighters surrounded Goma airport, is a member of the former rebel group the Congolese Rally for Democracy, which controlled Goma and large swathes of eastern Congo during the 5-year civil war in Africa’s third largest country.

Ruberwa is one of four vice presidents and the leader of Congolese Rally for Democracy, which has joined a transitional government.

No shots were heard in Goma, but parents took their children out of school and businesses shut down, wary that violence could erupt.

The war in Congo ended last June when the rebels and the government set up a transitional government in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital. But eastern and northeastern Congo have remained volatile.

Nkunda was supposed to be integrated into a new national army and was given the rank of brigadier general, but he was suspended after refusing to take up a post in western Congo.

The fighting in Bukavu erupted on Wednesday and pitted troops loyal to Brig. Gen. Mbuza Mabe, the commander of the army in troubled South Kivu province, and fighters loyal Col. Jules Mutebuzi, another former commander in Congolese Rally Democracy.

Bukavu was calm Monday, said Sebastien Lapierre, spokesman of the U.N. mission in Congo.

Congo was split by a 1998-2002 war that drew in the armies of six Africa nations and killed more than 3 million people, by aid groups’ estimates

There are some 10,800 U.N. troops deployed in Congo to help implement the peace deals and end the violence in eastern and northeastern parts of the country.

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