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Foreign Rebels Remain in DRC Despite Deadline Threats

Thousands of rebels from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo despite a deadline that expired on Friday for them to lay down their weapons and go home. The gunmen have been at the center of a decade of fighting in Congo, which is officially over, but threatens to reignite as Rwanda and Uganda say Congo-based rebels pose a threat to their national security.

Another deadline expired in Africa's war-torn Great Lakes Region on Friday, but there was little change on the ground.

More than 10,000 Rwandan and Ugandan rebels based in Congo's lawless east had been given until the end of the month to go home.

Very few, if any, have. In fact, during the last week, some 400 fighters from yet another Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which has decimated northern Uganda for decades, arrived in the remote north east of Congo.

Their arrival prompted Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni to renew threats to send troops into the Congo to disarm Ugandan rebels if Kinshasa's fledgling army or the United Nations peacekeeping force did not.

Uganda and Rwanda have twice sent their armies into Congo on the pretext of hunting down their rebels there. They and several other foreign armies became embroiled in a five-year war that has killed nearly four million people.

Two years after peace officially returned, the presence of the rebels, in particular Rwandan Hutu rebels, many of whom took part in the 1994 genocide, threatens the fragile peace process and attempts to hold elections in the vast country.

Congo's government and army remain deeply divided and, although the U.N. mission in Congo is the world's largest, peacekeepers say they are stretched thin trying to protect civilians in a land still ruled by the gun.

The African Union has repeatedly vowed to disarm the Rwandan rebels but, without a single soldier on the ground, is even further from doing so than the U.N.

As a result, diplomats say deadlines and threats are pointless as there is no way to enforce them in the wilds of eastern Congo.

Critics accuse Uganda and Rwanda of exaggerating the threat posed by their rebels in order to distract attention from problems back home.

While recognizing the need for Congo to rebuild its military capability, analysts also call for political pressure on her two neighbors to resolve their own internal disputes without dragging down the chaotic heart of Africa.