- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

DUNGU, Congo

Hundreds of lawmakers boycotted the National Assembly session in a dispute over the government’s acceptance of foreign troops on Congolese soil.

The dispute continues despite President Joseph Kabila’s recent eviction of Ugandan soldiers in the northeast and Rwandan troops in North Kivu province.

The Uganda People’s Defense Force and the Congolese army have spent three months chasing members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that has also terrorized southern Sudan and northeastern Congo.

The Congolese people and some members of parliament are wary of foreign troops in their vast Central African nation, which is the size of Western Europe.

The sentiment was exacerbated by Mr. Kabila’s recent invitation to the armies of Uganda and Rwanda to pursue their own militants over the Congolese border.

Congratulations were thick at a highly choreographed Sunday event, with Ugandan and Congolese military officials claiming success against the Ugandan rebels.

Diplomatic and political observers said the Sunday ceremony was intended to build popular and governmental support for Mr. Kabila.

Officially, about 5,000 Ugandan troops had been posted to the town of Dungu and the area. Unofficially, diplomats said there were closer to 10,000 Ugandan soldiers in northern Congo and that some of those who were repatriated on Sunday might be quietly redeployed to other areas.

“It’s no coincidence [the withdrawal] started” Sunday, said one of a half-dozen European diplomats based in the capital, Kinshasa, who flew to Dungu to witness the ceremony. “For Kabila, the sooner he gets this over with, the better.”

Mr. Kabila’s political coalition, the Alliance for the Presidential Majority, or AMP, refused to sit in the new session, and called for the resignation of Vital Kamerhe, the president of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

Mr. Kamerhe is under fire for publicly questioning the decision to let Rwandan rebels into the country.

Communications Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga told The Washington Times that the real problem was the presence of Rwandan troops, who have a long and violent history along the eastern Congo border.

“People never really complained about the Ugandans,” Mr. Mende Omalanga said with a shrug. “But the Rwandans, now that is another story.”

Rwanda has been training and supporting Congolese rebel groups since the late 1990s, in large part to solidify its political and economic influence in the lush farmland and mineral rich soil in eastern Congo.

The Rwandan troops withdrew in late February. The Uganda and Rwandan military operations were not related.

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