- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

KIGALI, Rwanda — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrapped up a trip to promote peace in the Congo with a visit Tuesday to Rwanda, which has troops in the country.

Stopping at a re-education camp for former Rwandan rebels who had fought in the Congo, he urged the ex-fighters "to work with the government in the process of reconstruction and reconciliation."

The issue of disarmament and demobilization of armed groups in the powderkeg eastern Congo was a major plank of Mr. Annan's tour aimed at furthering the peace process in the former Zaire, where 1999 peace accords are being implemented.

Rival forces have divided the vast nation, the size of most of Western Europe, roughly in two, and the war has claimed up to 2.5 million lives, according to estimates by some humanitarian agencies.

Mr. Annan began the tour on Saturday in Kinshasa, where he met with Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

The 1999 accords had largely remained a dead letter until Mr. Kabila succeeded his father Laurent, who was assassinated in January.

The Kabila government's military forces and those of its allies from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe have since withdrawn from front-line positions, as have their rebel foes, backed by Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers.

Mr. Annan said after meeting with the young Mr. Kabila that the Congolese government had pledged to hand over to U.N. observers some 3,000 Rwandan Hutu fighters who had fought alongside troops loyal to the late dictator, Gen. Mobutu Sese Seko, during the war, which broke out in August 1998.

The U.N. chief also praised Namibia for fully withdrawing its troops from the Congo.

"I welcome this withdrawal, the first to be carried out by a signatory country of the Lusaka cease-fire agreement, and urge other foreign forces to withdraw as soon as possible," he said.

From Kinshasa he proceeded to the rebel-held city of Kisangani, where he urged fighters to leave the diamond center, Congo's third largest city.

In Rwanda on Tuesday, Mr. Annan also visited a memorial to the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan's, mainly Tutsis, which occurred while he was head of the U.N. refugee agency. During his first visit there in 1998, Mr. Annan was snubbed by the authorities, who accused the United Nations of turning a blind eye to the blood bath.

Mr. Annan met Monday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who welcomed the U.N. chief's announcement that the Congo would hand over the 3,000 Rwandan Hutu rebel fighters.

"It's a step in the right direction. That can help us move the peace process forward," he said.

Mr. Kagame said his government was "open to the return of these people," though those guilty of taking part in the genocide should be sent before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, or to Rwandan courts.

At the camp that Mr. Annan visited in Nkumba, northern Rwanda, 600 former Hutu rebels are receiving training for reintegration into society.

The secretary-general urged the trainees "to work with the [Rwandan] government in the process of reconstruction and reconciliation."

Wearing civilian clothes, the former fighters, many implicated in the genocide, sang and danced for Mr. Annan.

Rwanda, which backs rebels of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), invaded the Congo in 1998, saying Rwandan insurgents with bases in the Congo were posing a security threat to the Kigali government.

The strength of the force has been estimated at between 15,000 and 50,000.

The United Nations has deployed more than 2,500 peacekeepers to oversee the revived 1999 cease-fire accords signed in Lusaka, Zambia, which called for the disarmament of armed groups in the east.

The disarmament process "implies a dialogue between [Congo] and Rwanda," Jean-Marie Guehenneau, the U.N. official in charge of peace-keeping operations, told a press conference.

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