Soldiers loyal to President Laurent Kabila sparked popular rejoicing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo capital by proclaiming victory over Rwandan-backed rebels in the eastern suburbs.

But with Kinshasa under a third night of curfew, the occasional distant explosion and more shooting than usual after dark, it was far from certain late on Friday that the celebrations signaled an end to rebel activity citywide."The mopping up is pratically finished in those places where we have flushed out the aggressors," one Kabila aide told Reuters after a day of fighting with tanks, heavy and automatic weapons in the eastern suburbs.

Loyalist troops hunted rebels all over the city.

It was unclear whether further rebel infiltrators were lying low in the city or waiting on the outskirts to enter.

Three days of fighting in the sprawling suburb of Masina and near-by Kimbanseke triggered an exodus of thousands of civilians towards more central districts of the city of more than 5 million people.

Thousands of men, women and children fled the combat zone with suitcases and bundles of belongings on their heads, some fording the Ndjili River that marked the edge of the combat zone.

"Now it's calm. Tension has fallen," one Masina resident told Reuters. He said government forces were in control there and added that some people who had fled their homes were starting to drift back. He reported sporadic shooting.

Both Masina and Kimbanseke are near Kinshasa's Ndjili international airport, which remained firmly in government hands.

But with rebels still holding the giant Inga hydro-electric dam in the west, much of the city was in darkness once again.

Kabila accuses former allies Rwanda and Uganda of invading in support of rebels who took up arms against him on Aug. 2.

He was absent from the capital. Diplomats said he was most likely in Lubumbashi, Congo's second city and capital of his southern home province of Katanga.

Whatever the outcome of any battle for the capital, the rebels still hold the main towns in the east where they launched the revolt after Kabila ordered all Rwandan soldiers to leave the country.

Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated army and Congo's ethnic Tutsi minority helped Kabila topple veteran dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997 after a seven-month bush war.

The government showed nine prisoners to journalists on Friday. Eight presented themselves as Rwandan, one as Congolese.

Residents turned out to cheer after jubilant soldiers returned from the battle zone in the east.