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Rwanda Fears Attack from Congo - 2004-06-21

A Rwandan army spokesman says he fears Congolese government troops being transferred to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are getting ready to attack Rwanda. But a U.N. spokesman says the Congolese troops are trying to stabilize the situation.

Rwandan army spokesman Colonel Patrick Karegeya told VOA the buildup of 10,000 Congolese troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is, in his words, a dangerous escalation.

"We take that as a hostile move, and we just have to keep our defenses so that we are not surprised by them," he said.

Colonel Karegeya says elements within the Congolese army want to wage a direct strike against Rwanda. He says the army includes some Hutu rebels who participated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists massacred up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Colonel Karegeya also says he fears the Hutu rebels want to come back to Rwanda and fight Tutsis.

But a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Bukavu, Sebestian LaPierre, disagrees. He says Congolese troops are there to stabilize the area following fighting, during which renegade soldiers earlier this month overran Bukavu, but withdrew a week later.

"Eastern Congo has been very agitated in the past few weeks with the mutiny and, you know, fighting," said Mr. LaPierre. "So I suppose the Congolese forces now are deploying to the region, and they're trying to be prepared to ensure the security of their territory."

Mr. LaPierre says it has not been proven that Hutu rebels involved in the genocide are currently part of the Congolese army, or that the Congolese government provides arms to Hutu extremists, as Colonel Karegeya claims.

He notes how the Congolese government recently accused Rwanda of wanting to attack Congo.

"What is really taking place is the rise of tensions between these countries, and they are both accusing each other and this, obviously is not a very favorable climate for regional peace," added Mr. LaPierre.

Rwanda sent troops into Congo twice, in 1996 and 1998, to hunt down Hutu extremists involved in the genocide. The two countries signed a peace deal in 2002 that, among other things, would end Kinshasha's support of the Hutu rebels.

But Rwanda has accused Congo of violating the agreement. Colonel Karegeya says that in April, Hutu rebels based in eastern Congo attacked Rwanda on three separate occasions.

He told VOA that Rwanda would consider sending troops back into Congo if, in his words, it becomes absolutely necessary for the country to defend itself.