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Congo and Rwanda Disagree Over Troop Buildup - 2004-06-21


The Democratic Republic of Congo is denying charges it is preparing to invade Rwanda.

The defense minister of Congo's transitional government denied accusations that troop buildups in the east of the country are preparations for an invasion of neighboring Rwanda.

Defense Minister Jean Pierre Ondekane told reporters and members of the diplomatic corps in Kinshasa that the redeployment is an attempt to pacify the east of the country, where he said armed foreign groups are still operating.

Former Congolese rebels seized the eastern town of Bukavu earlier this month. They withdrew from the town last week and government forces moved in. But sporadic fighting continues south of the town.

The minister said that the operation is part of the government's plan to reform the armed forces, so the entire country could be protected by a unified army.

The remarks follow accusations from the Rwandan government that the deployment of about 10,000 Congolese troops to the area near the Congo-Rwanda border amounted to preparations for war. Rwanda has also accused Congo of mobilizing Rwandan Hutu rebels to fight alongside government soldiers.

Rwanda has invaded Congo twice during the last decade. Rwanda officially withdrew its troops following peace deals in 2002, but the new Congo government has repeatedly accused Rwanda of meddling in its affairs.

Most recently, Congo President Joseph Kabila claimed that Rwanda was supporting the former rebels who seized Bukavu.

The United Nations says one of its patrols in the area was attacked by rebels, and its helicopters returned fire.

In what is seen as a reaction to last week's apparent failed coup attempt, as well as the army's inability to impose its authority in the east, late Sunday President Kabila announced a high level reshuffle of military leaders.

The chief of staff of the armed forces was replaced, and the heads of the presidential guard and the military cabinet were suspended, pending investigations into the apparent coup attempt.

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