- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

From combined dispatches

BRUSSELS — Belgium and the United States said yesterday that Rwandan intrusions into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) must stop and the country must be secured if elections scheduled for next year are to be held.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the current situation, in which Rwanda is accused of deploying troops in eastern Congo, is untenable and must be improved if voting is to be held in June.

Both men agreed on the importance of the elections — the country’s first since it won independence from Belgium 44 years ago — as critical to the country’s slow emergence from a five-year war that began in 1998 and at its height drew in half a dozen other African countries.

“We are of the opinion that it is necessary to have elections in the DRC,” Mr. De Gucht told reporters after meeting Mr. Powell, who is in Brussels to attend a NATO foreign ministers meeting today.

“If we don’t have elections in the course of next year, you will have a problem with transition, but the conditions should allow it,” he said.

Mr. De Gucht called the situation in the eastern DRC “preoccupying” and said it showed the importance of improving and unifying the Congolese army, a project undertaken by Belgium and South Africa.

Rwanda, while denying that it has troops in Congo, has defended the possibility of such operations, saying they may be needed to deal with Hutu rebels who have been based there since fleeing Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has said he needs to keep the option open, because the Congolese army and U.N. peacekeepers have not acted against the Hutu extremists.

Mr. Powell said stabilizing the Congo is vital for next year’s elections to he held, but admitted that the task would be tough.

“It’s important for us to work toward those elections, it will be difficult,” he said. “We need stability and security, we need no further intrusions, we need to end the conflict in the Congo.”

Hutu extremists from Rwanda were allied to the government in Kinshasa in the devastating 1998-2003 war that claimed some 3 million lives, mainly civilian, and in which Rwandan troops backed Congolese rebels.

The conflict formally ended in April last year, when Congolese President Joseph Kabila enacted a peace pact under which he would lead an interim government made up in part of former rebels until the 2005 elections.

Earlier in New York, the U.N. Security Council, in an apparent warning to Mr. Kagame, said it intended to consider unspecified measures against individuals who undermined the peace process in Congo.

The warning came in a statement adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council and expressed “very deep concern” at Rwanda’s threats to send soldiers into its huge neighbor to pursue Hutu rebels threatening it.

The council condemned any such military action and demanded that Rwanda quickly withdraw any troops it may have in the DRC.

A Security Council statement, unlike a council resolution, is not binding on governments.

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