- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

KINSHASA, Congo — U.N. officials said yesterday that an additional brigade of peacekeepers has been deployed in eastern Congo amid reports that Rwanda is threatening to attack Rwandan rebels based in its huge neighbor.

This jeopardizes the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, spokesman Fred Eckhard said at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York.

“The mission’s mandate includes preventing the DRC peace process from being derailed by spoilers from within and outside the DRC,” he said.

Patricia Tome, a U.N. spokeswoman in Congo, said yesterday that Rwanda has warned it will “very soon” attack Rwandan Hutu rebels taking refuge in eastern Congo. She said U.N. Special Representative William Swing “received a call from a Rwandan official informing him there would be an attack very soon … by the Rwandan army on Congolese territory.”

The spokeswoman did not say when Mr. Swing got the call nor identify the Rwandan official.

A spokesman for Rwandan President Paul Kagame refused comment. “I know absolutely nothing of this,” Alfred Ndahiro said.

Rwanda has invaded Congo twice in recent years — in 1996 and 1998 — to hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels, many of whom led or participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which extremists from the Hutu majority orchestrated a slaughter of the ethnic Tutsi minority.

[A census in Rwanda this year put the genocide toll at 937,000, Reuters news agency reported in April.]

The U.N. brigade recently deployed in eastern Congo is part of a 5,900-member addition to the about 10,800-strong peacekeeping force in the country.

Mr. Swing, who is in the eastern city of Bukavu on Congo’s border with Rwanda, was in “diplomatic consultations with all parties in the region to avoid any escalation,” the U.N. spokeswoman said.

The U.N. trip to Bukavu on Tuesday was part of a tour of Africa by the 15 Security Council ambassadors, aimed at focusing attention on the continent’s most persistent trouble spots.

Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, the French diplomat leading the mission, called the peacekeeping force in Congo the most important U.N. mission in the world.

In Kinshasa on Tuesday, Mr. de la Sabliere urged Rwanda and Congo to stick to their promises last month to field joint verification teams to guard against rebel incursions and any other cease-fire violations by either side.

Rwanda has accused Congo of failing to neutralize thousands of Rwandan Hutu fighters who fled there after the Rwanda genocide. U.N. military commanders say 8,000 to 10,000 Rwandan Hutu fighters remain in eastern Congo.

Mr. Kagame predicted this week that voluntary disarmament will never work and that force is necessary.

Congo’s own 1996-97 war, which led to the ouster of dictator Joseph Mobutu, drew in the armies of Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. It split the resource-rich country.

Aid workers estimate that the conflict killed more than 3 million people in the east alone. Almost all the victims were civilians who died of famine and disease after being cut off from food and medical care.

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