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Rwanda Fears Spillover of DRC Conflict


Rwanda's special envoy to the Great Lakes region says a recent upsurge of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo poses a threat to Rwandan security. He also dismisses charges by the United Nations that Rwanda is arming Congolese rebels responsible for the violence. Noel King has this report from Kigali.

As the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo heats up, Rwandan Ambassador Richard Sezibera says his country's main concern is that instability in the Congo could allow Rwandan Hutu militias there to return to Rwanda and wreak havoc.

Hutu militias were primarily responsible for the deaths of an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus during Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Following the genocide, the militias fled to Congo, outraging many Rwandans who wanted them tried for war crimes.

Ambassador Sezibera told VOA that chaos in the Congo may allow the militias, formerly known as interahamwe but now calling themselves members of the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, to regroup and re-enter Rwanda.

"It poses a threat to Rwandan security in as much as it gives a chance for the ex-interhamwe to either rearm and retrain, or get more equipment for launching their attacks against Rwanda," said Sezibera.

At the center of the recent storm of violence in eastern Congo is a former general in the Congolese Army, Laurent Nkunda.

Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi, says he is simply trying to protect Tutsis from Hutu militias in Congo's vast eastern province.

According to news reports, the United Nations has accused Rwanda of providing arms to Nkunda's forces.

Ambassador Sezibera dismissed the claims and questioned the U.N.'s ability to keep peace in the region.

"The United Nations has over 3,800 troops in north Kivu alone," he said. "And if they can't keep the peace there, then what are they there for? Rwanda's interest in that area is the presence of the ex-interahamwe who occupy territory, who control land, who control airspace, who attack local Congolese civilians, who maim, rape and kill Congolese women."

On Thursday, the United Nations Mission in the Congo reported that Nkunda's forces and the Congolese army had agreed to a UN-brokered ceasefire in the town of Sake, at the center of the fighting in North Kivu province.

Reuters reported early Friday that Nkunda says the Congolese army has broken the ceasefire, attacking his positions in the town of Rutsharu.

The world body and international aid organizations have warned of massive civilian displacement in eastern Congo as a result of the fighting.

Some 200,000 people have fled fighting in the region this year.

Rwanda has twice invaded Congo to track down Hutu insurgents, but officials here say, at present, the conflict in Congo is a Congolese problem.

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