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Top Rwanda Hutu Rebel Commander Surrenders

The top Rwandan Hutu rebel commander based in the Democratic Republic of Congo has formally surrendered to the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government. His movement, the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) has been based in eastern Congo for nine years, following the flight of Hutu extremists to eastern Congo after their involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Rwandan Hutu leader Paul Rwarakabije and several of his officers flew into the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to be greeted by top Rwandan officials eager to display a political victory over the Hutu-rebel movement.

The sudden surrender of the top officials follows direct discussions between the Rwandan government and the rebel group. Rwandan officials emphasized that the surrender had nothing to do with either the U.N. mission in Congo or the new Congolese government.

The FDLR rebel group has been comprised of key members of the 1994 genocide, plus Hutu members of the former Rwandan army, as well as a mix of displaced Rwandan Hutus. The group has been based in eastern Congo for many years, fighting alongside the former Congolese government in its battle to stave off the largest Congolese rebel movement at the time - RCD-Goma (Rally for Congolese Democracy).

RCD-Goma was backed by the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda government and is now part of the new transitional government in Congo, which officially ended five years of war in July.

The U.N. mission in Congo had also been trying to help repatriate FDLR troops to Rwanda.

On Friday, more than 100 heavily-armed FDLR fighters crossed the border into Rwanda from the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu. Hundreds more have already started gathering in towns close to Bukavu.

How many of the estimated 15- to 20,000 FDLR fighters in eastern Congo will repatriate depends on how many of them are granted amnesty, according to U.N. sources. Mr. Rwarakabije himself does not have a record of being involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, having merely led attacks against northern Rwanda between 1997 and 2000. As such, he is expected to receive some sort of political amnesty from the Rwandan government, in return for his surrender, although this has not been made clear.