Rwandan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) troops have exchanged fire with Rwandan Hutu militiamen in eastern DR Congo, killing nine in the first fighting reported since an unprecedented joint military operation began this week, the UN said.
The skirmish took place around Lubero, west of Lake Edward, late on Saturday said UN peacekeeping spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich. The UN was not involved in the operation and no details were immediately available.
Rwanda and DR Congo have been enemies for years, but they suddenly changed tactics and began cooperating in an effort to disarm the rival militia groups each nation has backed as proxies.
Eastern DR Congo has been wracked by violence since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled war across the border and Hutu militias who participated in the massacres of more than 500,000 mostly ethnic Tutsi civilians sought refuge in DR Congo.
Rwanda invaded twice in the 1990s to eradicate the Hutu militias — though it was accused of plundering Congo’s vast mineral wealth instead. The presence of the Hutu militias in DR Congo gave birth in 2004 to a Tutsi rebellion led by Laurent Nkunda, who was allied to Rwanda and claimed he was defending minority Tutsis against Hutus.
But in a startling turnaround, Rwandan troops captured Nkunda on Thursday as part of a breakthrough deal that saw at least 4,000 Rwandan soldiers enter DR Congo last week to hunt down the Hutu militias, who many say are the root of the conflict.
DR Congo has called for Nkunda to be handed over. It issued an international warrant against Nkunda in 2005 for war crimes and rights abuses allegedly committed when his fighters seized the lakeside city of Bukavu a year earlier.