- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

From combined dispatches

GOMA, Congo — Rwandan President Paul Kagame confirmed late yesterday that his country’s troops will begin an operation in pursuit of Rwandan Hutu rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after U.N. troops spotted about 100 purported Rwandan soldiers in the DRC yesterday.

In a letter to the African Union (AU), seen by Agence France-Presse, Mr. Kagame wrote that he hoped the operation would not last longer than two weeks and would target only the rebels.

“I trust that within a period not exceeding 14 days from the start of the envisaged operation, a solution will be found that will allow for the speedy return of Rwandan troops to the confines of our borders,” said the letter, dated Nov. 25.

“Rwanda will not target any Congolese forces, but on the contrary hopes to work with them to solve the problem — something we have requested several times from the DRC government,” he wrote to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who also is the AU chief.

Amid fears that Rwanda was once again invading its vast, mineral-rich neighbor, the head of MONUC — the French acronym for the U.N. mission in Congo — told reporters in Goma, the largest town in eastern Congo, that scores of what appeared to be Rwandan soldiers had been seen in the area.

“This morning I received information, which has yet to be confirmed, that a team we sent to the Rutshuru region, in Virunga park, had come across a group of 100 soldiers suspected to be Rwandans,” said M’Hand Ladjouzi, the MONUC chief.

The sighting came a day after Mr. Kagame told lawmakers in his country that Rwanda would act against 8,000 to 10,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels sheltering in eastern Congo because a five-month-old U.N.-led disarmament program had failed to neutralize them.

The Hutus, a Bantu people, and Tutsis, people thought to have come from the north, are two ethnic groups of Africa’s Rift Valley that have long been in conflict. The Tutsis long dominated the Hutu majority but were overthrown in Rwanda during a 1959 civil war.

Rwanda and Burundi, a twin country to the south, became independent in 1962 from Belgium, which had received a League of Nations mandate over the former German possessions after World War I.

Out-of-power Tutsi exiles tried several times to invade Rwanda, and massacres by Hutu fighters ensued.

The Tutsi-controlled Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Mr. Kagame, succeeded in 1994 amid turmoil after the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed in a mysterious plane crash, and while the Interahamwe, a powerful Hutu force linked to the Hutu government, was preoccupied with exterminating ethnic Tutsis still in Rwanda.

In that genocide, close to a million minority Tutsis, and Hutus who rejected the slaughter, died. Many Interahamwe fighters and soldiers of the defeated Rwandan army fled into the jungles of eastern Congo after the RPF assumed power in Rwanda that year.

The Interahamwe and remnants of the Rwandan army when the Hutus were in power now call themselves the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda or FDLR, the French acronym.

U.N. officials had said that extensive sweeps by their 11,000-plus force in Congo failed to turn up any signs of Rwandan incursions since Mr. Kagame’s recent warnings began.

But Mr. Ladjouzi said yesterday in Goma that “these kinds of infiltrations are not new.” He revealed that a joint patrol of U.N. and Congolese troops last week arrested nine purported Rwandan soldiers, who remain in Congolese custody. He provided no further details.

Mr. Ladjouzi said U.N. forces were investigating reports of three villages being burned between the towns of Rutshuru and Lubero.

Col. Etienne Bindu, a Congolese army commander, said Tuesday that Rwandan troops had killed at least 19 civilians in an attack Sunday on a town in eastern Congo.

Mbusa Nyamwisi, a government minister in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, who has close business links to Rwanda’s regional rival, Uganda, said Rwandan troops and Congolese allies had burned villages and raped women in villages 100 miles north of Goma.

As tensions rise, large numbers of Rwandan Hutu rebels have begun moving west out of the Rutshuru region, Mr. Ladjouzi said, sending residents fleeing.

The refugee movements were not caused by Rwandan forces, he added.

“If Rwandan forces target the civilian population, MONUC will take action,” he said.

Rwanda has twice invaded eastern Congo, in 1996 and 1998, to hunt down Rwandan Hutu combatants who fled after the 1994 genocide but continued attacks near the border. The 1998 invasion led to a five-year war that drew in the armies of four other African nations and split Congo, a country the size of Western Europe.

An estimated 3.2 million people died in the war, most from famine and disease.

Peace accords in 2002 were followed by the withdrawal of foreign armies and establishment of a power-sharing government.

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