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UN Defends Itself Against Rwandan Accusations - 2004-08-06

The government of Rwanda has accused the United Nations of failing to disarm and repatriate Rwandan rebels inside Congo. The accusation follows the escape of 25 rebels who had been captured in Congo. The U.N. mission says it would help if rebels voluntarily gave up their weapons.

The United Nations on Friday defended itself after a senior Rwandan government official used the confusion surrounding the apparent capture and then escape of 25 Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo to sharply criticize the U.N. mission.

Patricia Tome, a spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Congo, said the Rwandan rebels that the Congolese army asked the U.N. to disarm and demobilize, were reluctant to disarm and return home.

Given that the mandate of the U.N. mission is limited to working with rebels that voluntarily laid down their weapons and returned home, Ms. Tome said there was little more that the U.N. could have done.

When the 25 rebels subsequently managed to escape later in the week, fleeing back into the bush, Rwanda criticized the United Nations for failing to do its job.

Richard Sezibera, a Rwandan presidential envoy to the Great Lakes Region, delivered a scathing attack on the U.N., citing its failure to disarm men he accused of taking part in the genocide that killed 800,000 thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

He told Rwandan radio it was "neither understandable nor acceptable" that a U.N. force that costs the international community nearly $700 million every year and has over 10,000 men in the Congo could fail to disarm 25 men.

Mr. Sezibera called on the international community to forcible disarm and repatriate the rebels who are largely made up of the Hutu militias that fled Rwanda after their involvement in the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda has invaded Congo twice, in 1996 and 1998, both times essentially under the pretext of defeating the Hutu rebels.

Although peace deals have since been signed between the two countries, relations remain strained, often due to disputes over the estimated 10,000 rebels that remain in Congo's lawless east.

The number of rebels involved in this particular case is fairly low, but analysts say that it illustrates how the rebels are still a significant obstacle for peace in the region.

Following a five-year war that killed an estimated three million people, Congo's army remains weak, deeply divided and unable to tackle the rebels militarily. Meanwhile, the U.N. does not have the mandate to forcibly disarm them.

As a result, Rwanda has repeatedly threatened to return to Congo if the threat posed by the rebels is not neutralized.