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Rwanda Withdrawing Most Forces from Congo - 2002-10-01

Rwanda is pulling more than half of its forces out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The withdrawal is another sign that the peace process in Congo is gathering momentum.

Rwandan government spokesman Joseph Bideri says about 15,000 troops are being flown out of Congo and back home to Rwanda.

"What is happening today is that we are withdrawing 10 battalions from South Kivu ... into Rwanda. The momentum is very high. The operation is on course and we believe we will be done sooner rather than later."

The first of Rwanda's 23,000 troops in Congo began leaving two-weeks ago as part of a July peace accord signed by the two parties in Pretoria. Rwanda agreed to leave Congo in exchange for the Congolese government disarming and repatriating Rwandan rebels based in Congo.

Rwanda has justified its four-year occupation of its giant neighbor on security grounds. It says the Hutu extremists who carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda have been using Congo as a base to launch attacks on the current Rwandan government.

But there have been concerns that the withdrawal of the Rwandan forces could lead to a rise in violence in Congo's South Kivu province.

During the past week, fighting has flared between rebels backed by Rwanda and the local Mayi Mayi militia in South Kivu, forcing thousands of people to flee.

But the Rwandan government spokesman does not consider this a serious problem. He says he is confident that U.N. forces will maintain peace in Congo once Rwandan troops have departed.

"We believe there are other parties that have committed themselves to ensuring security in the DRC," he said. "The United Nations for one. So we hope that vacuum will not be a source of trouble. We hope the U.N. is going to play its part and make sure there are no disturbances in that part of the Congo."

Others point out that even when the Rwandan troop presence in eastern Congo was at its height, they did little to prevent conflicts between rival Congolese forces.