Congo President Reportedly Wounded in Coup

Congolese President Laurent Kabila has reportedly been shot and badly wounded during an apparent coup attempt today, a source told ABCNEWS.

A senior military official in the neighboring Republic of Congo also said Kabila was wounded during an intense 30-minute gunbattle at his palatial residence in the capital.

There has been no confirmation from the Congolese government.

Congolese officials have made requests to the Belgian government for medical assistance, and South Africa has confirmed the coup attempt, the source said.

The request for Belgian doctors suggests Kabila's wounds are serious because Kabila has his own doctors, and Congolese officials would not call in outsiders unless it was serious.

Intelligence officials in Rwanda, which supports rebels battling Kabila's government, said they had unconfirmed reports Kabila was dead.

The Republic of Congo official, who spoke on condition of anonymity from his country's capital of Brazzaville, said Kabila was shot and that it was not known who was in control of Congo's government.

Shortly after the gunfire erupted, Kabila aide Eddy Kapend went on national television to appeal for calm. Kapend ordered all airports and borders closed, but gave no other details and made no mention of the violence.

Later, a presidential helicopter landed at Kinshasa's main hospital, a government official who witnessed the event said, and there were unconfirmed reports the aircraft was carrying Kabila's son Joseph Kabila, who had apparently been injured.

Hundreds of Americans in Congo

There are 400 Americans living in Congo, but based on current information, they are in no danger, said a source familiar with the situation. It could become dangerous, however, if the military unravels, and looting and civil unrest begins but right now the city is calm.

Kabila's hilltop residence near downtown Kinshasa, known as the Marble Palace, is surrounded by soldiers but it is not known if the are forces loyal to Kabila or not. Kabila's palace is usually heavily guarded by soldiers and a North Korean-made tank.

Hours after the apparent coup began, truckloads of armed soldiers patrolled the streets in the central African nation’s capital. Kinshasa residents hurried home, and many streets were quickly deserted.

Americans have been told to stay to home. Of the Americans there, 200 of those are children, and 60 work for the embassy.

A Turbulent History

The Congolese president has been fighting a civil war since August 1998, when rebel forces backed by Kabila's former allies, Rwanda and Uganda, turned against him. In the war's early stages, the rebels reached the outskirts of Kinshasa before being turned back by Kabila's army, which is now supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Kabila came to power in May 1997 following a Uganda- and Rwanda-sponsored rebellion against former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the nation then called Zaire.

The international community initially welcomed Kabila, who many hoped would be a vast improvement over Mobutu's decades-long rule, which left his nation desperately broke and with an infrastructure that barely functioned.

But Kabila quickly alienated himself, inviting close friends and relatives into the government, angering investors and obstructing a United Nations investigation of reports that his rebel army had slaughtered thousands of Hutu refugees.

Kabila's government signed a peace agreement last year with the rebel movements, though fighting has continued and each side has consistently accused the other of violations.