Tue, Dec 21, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Rwanda withdraws Congo threat

REST ASSURED?Although Rwanda says it won't send troops to neighboring Congo, the Congolese say there are already Rwandan soldiers in the territory

AGENCIES , NAIROBI AND GOMA, CONGO

A renegade soldier from the Congolese Rally for Democracy stands at the frontline between the rebels and loyal Congolese soldiers near Kirumba, some 14km north of Kanyabayonga, on Sunday. Fighting between regular army soldiers and mutineers resumed on Sunday in the far east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, UN and rebel sources said.

PHOTO: AFP

Rwanda will no longer threaten to send soldiers into the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo to pursue Rwandan Hutu rebels, having received assurances from the international community, Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande said yesterday.

"We are no longer going to threaten to go into the DR Congo," he said speaking by telephone from Nairobi.

However the government in Kinshasa, capital of the DR Congo, once again charged that Rwanda already had troops on its territo-ry, and called for them to be withdrawn.

Rwanda "should start by pulling its troops out," government spokes-man Henri Mova said yesterday.

In his statement, the Rwandan minister said: "The international community has given us the assurance that it will tackle the problem of the ex-FAR and the Intera-hamwe," a reference to groups of mainly Hutu Rwandan rebels that took part in the genocidal massacres of 1994 in Rwanda.

Fighting between rival army factions ended days of relative calm in eastern Congo on Sunday.

Soldiers loyal to the Congolese government fought dissident units around the deserted Congolese farming town of Kanyabayonga.

Iliane Nabaa, a UN spokeswoman in the capital Kinshasa, said the clashes started at around 6am.

There were also credible reports of fighting between rebel fighters and the pro-Kinshasa Mai Mai militia around Nyabiondo, some 50km to the southwest, UN spokeswoman Jacqueline Chenard said.

Congo's fragile transitional government and its fractious army is struggling to impose order in the border region with Rwanda, where the UN says at least 100,000 people have been displaced by recent clashes between rival army factions.

Fighting erupted over a week ago between reinforcements the government sent to the east and RCD-Goma, a faction backed by Rwanda during Congo's five-year war but now meant to be part of the national army.

Rwanda has long expressed frustration at Kinshasa's failure to disarm Hutu militias who form the nucleus of rebel groups who have staged attacks on Rwanda from their jungle bases.

Kinshasa has accused Rwanda of already sending in troops to support Congolese rebels and treated Rwanda's latest announcement with scepticism.

"We don't have that much confidence in this declaration. Rwanda has to first of all withdraw its troops from Congo before withdrawing the threat," said Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi.

A government delegation held meetings on Sunday with local leaders in the eastern province of North Kivu, where a new regional army commander, General Gabriel Amisi, has been appointed to help clamp down on rebels.

But the arrival of additional government troops in the region has unsettled its Rwandan-speaking community, who fear they will be attacked out of anti-Rwandan prejudice.

North Kivu's Rwandaphone community leader, Felicien Hitimana, accused government troops of arbitrary arrest, torture and murder of Rwandan-speaking Congolese in the province, which is rich in gold, minerals and coltan.

At least 100,000 civilians have yet to return home after fleeing the fighting, Patrick Lavand-'Homme, the head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in North Kivu, said.

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