- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

BUKAVU, Congo Rwandan and Burundian rebels, aided by Congolese army officers, captured a strategic town in eastern Congo, a Congolese rebel leader said this week.

Adolphe Onusumba, head of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy, said the capture on Sept. 7 of the town of Fizi by the rebels occurred as Burundi government forces were pulling out of eastern Congo to fight rebels outside their country's capital.

"The capture of Fizi is very significant because Burundian and Rwandan rebels now have an opening to mount incursions into their countries across the lake," Mr. Onusumba told AP. News of Fizi's capture, some 125 miles south of Bukavu, was confirmed Monday by local and international nongovernmental organizations operating in eastern Congo.

The war in Congo broke out in 1998 when Rwanda and Uganda backed Congolese rebels attempting to oust President Laurent Kabila, accusing him of threatening regional security by arming Rwandan and Ugandan rebels.

The Rwandan government holds ethnic Hutus belonging to the Interahamwe militia responsible for the 100-day slaughter of at a half-million Rwandans, mainly male Tutsis, in 1994. The Interahamwe militiamen fled to neighboring Congo, then called Zaire, to escape retaliation and have since been fighting the Rwandan government.

Burundi joined the fray to fight Burundian rebels based in eastern Congo. The Burundian rebels are also supported by the Congolese government.

The capture of Fizi "is particularly significant now since the [Congo] government has supplied these groups with speedboats that can insert fighters into Burundi," Mr. Onusumba said. "Officers of the [Congolese] government forces are the ones masterminding logistics and other key operations of the Rwandan and Burundian rebels in the east," he added.

Congolese rebel leaders, who are signatories to the 1999 peace accord, warned that the move jeopardizes the fragile peace process in Congo. The Rwandan and Burundian rebels did not sign the cease-fire, but the Congolese government did.

The development puts increasing pressure on efforts to the end war in Africa's third-largest nation that has claimed an estimated 2.5 million lives, most of them civilian victims of hunger and disease.

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