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UN Investigating Reports of Rwandan Rights Violations in Congo

The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo is investigating reports that Rwandan soldiers were responsible for violations of human rights in the east of the country last month. Witnesses say armed men, thought to be Rwandans, attacked civilians and burned houses.

Although the United Nations has not officially confirmed the Rwandan army has sent its men across the border into neighboring Congo, the world body says it has begun investigations into reports that abuses were carried out by Rwandans in the east of the country.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Congo says its experts had begun investigations into reports that Rwandan soldiers carried out human rights abuses against civilians last month during operations targeting Rwandan rebels in Congo.

Spokeswoman Patricia Tome said that peacekeepers and human rights investigators had found houses that had been burned and were told by witnesses that Rwandan soldiers shot at people without knowing if they were rebels or not.

There were no more details regarding the alleged abuses, but Ms. Tome said the United Nations would be sending its investigators back to the villages, which are in the volatile Congolese province of North Kivu, for further investigations.

The United Nations has said it is almost certain that the Rwandan army was involved in attacks on Hutu rebels based in eastern Congo after Kigali last month repeatedly threatened to send soldiers to carry out surgical strikes across the border.

And the U.N. Security Council said Tuesday it would consider unspecified measures against individuals who undermined the peace process in Congo and demanded that Rwanda quickly withdraw any troops it may have on Congolese soil.

But the world body has stopped short of confirming Rwandan infiltrations, which the government in Kigali has flatly denied.

Rwanda argues that it has the right to enter its neighbor to hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels, many of whom took part in the 1994 genocide, killing 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus before fleeing into eastern Congo.

Kigali says the United Nations and the government in Kinshasa have failed to disarm the estimated 10,000 rebels that remain, and Rwanda therefore has the responsibility to complete the task before they attack.

Meanwhile, the rebels called for all Rwandans to unite and rise up against, what they call, a repressive regime in Kigali in order to restore democracy in the tiny country.

Rwanda has invaded Congo twice during the past decade, both times ostensibly to hunt down the rebels.

The second attack in 1998 was one of the triggers for Congo's five-year war, which sucked in five other neighboring countries and killed three million people, mostly from hunger and disease.