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Fighting Subsides as Delegation Tours Eastern Congo


There appears to be a lull in the fighting Monday as top regional officials and a delegation from Congo's capital tour parts of eastern Congo destroyed by recent fighting.

Fighting between Congolese troops and a breakaway faction of Congo's army appears to have subsided, as regional officials and a Kinshasa delegation visit Kanyabayonga, an eastern Congolese town that has been the scene of fierce fighting.

As many as 30 people are reported to have been killed in recent fighting in eastern Congo. About 100,000 people have fled their villages, as fighters looted homes and businesses.

The violence comes as Congolese President Joseph Kabila is amassing troops in eastern Congo. This is his response to repeated threats by Rwanda's Tutsi-led government to send troops here to track down thousands of Hutu fighters still roaming the thick green hills of Congo's Kivu provinces. The fighters are remnants of the Interhamwe and former Armed Forces of Rwanda soldiers who escaped to Congo after carrying out genocide against nearly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994.

As it turned out, as government troops poured into eastern Congo, dissident soldiers from the former rebel group Rally for Congolese Democracy started attacking them.

Eugene Serufuli Ngayabaseka, the governor of North Kivu Province, in eastern Congo, is part of the delegation meeting in Goma. He says the real problem stems not from Rwanda's threat of invasion, but from the make up of the Congolese army, itself. He says it still needs to be integrated.

"It's true they are fighting Congolese and Congolese," he said. "It's the same army which is fighting. But their composition is not the same. Others are for RCD and others for government. They must do as quick as possible to make the soldiers together."

The sense of urgency is profound. Another Congolese war is a grisly prospect, considering the last one lasted five years, drew in at least six African countries and killed nearly four million Congolese.

Moise Mbusa Katimika, who lives in Goma, on the Congo-Rwanda border, says allegiances here are split: many people support President Kabila and the Congolese army; many support the dissident soldiers, made up of former rebels for the Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RCD.

Mr. Katimika says the specter of war has ratcheted up tension in Goma. Like many people here, he says the violence is a sign that Congo and Rwanda are once again on a path toward war.

"Families are very nervous with this war," he said. "They are against this war. And, they don't know how to end this war here. When they heard that Kabila was sending soldiers here, they tried to think that the war was to end. But they are surprised by seeing again [that] the war stays."

Mr. Katimika, like many people in Goma, disbelieves Rwanda's claim to be protecting itself from Hutu attacks. He and his friends say it is only a pretext for Rwanda troops to enter their country, or back dissident groups like the RCD.

The delegation in Goma is expected to leave Tuesday. Several delegates say that a likely scenario for ending the current crisis would be for the RCD troops to back down and let the Congolese army defend its border with Rwanda.

But many of Congo's ethnic Tutsi population fear Congolese troops almost as much as they fear the Hutu militiamen lingering in the hills.

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