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AU Calls for African Force to Disarm Rwandan Rebels in Congo

The African Union has called for African states to put together a force to help the Congolese army forcibly disarm Rwandan rebels in eastern Congo. The African Union also urged the United Nations to bolster its peacekeeping mission in the country where fighting continues, despite numerous peace deals.

Following several days of talks of the African Union's Peace and Security Council, the regional body has called for the continent to actively tackle the decade-long problem of Rwandan Hutu rebels based in eastern Congo.

An AU statement calls for African countries to send soldiers into the troubled east to help Congo's fractious army to forcibly disarm the Rwandan rebels, who have been terrorizing the local population and antagonizing Kigali for years.

The 53-member body declared that decisive action was needed to solve the problem of the armed groups, which include the extremist Hutu Interahamwe militias, the gunmen who took part in the 1994 genocide, killing 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

There are believed to be about 10,000 Rwandan rebels in eastern Congo and the African Union said they were continuing to disrupt Congo's attempted transition toward democracy and antagonizing relations with neighboring Rwanda.

Neither the United Nations nor the Congolese government has been able to convince the rebels to return home peacefully. Therefore, Kigali believes it has the duty and right to act.

Rwandan threats to launch attacks late last year on the Rwandan rebels raised fears of a fresh regional war. Rwanda has invaded Congo twice during the past decade, both times ostensibly to hunt down the Hutu rebels.

The second attack, in 1998, was one of the factors that led to Congo's recently ended five-year war, which involved six neighboring countries and killed more than three million people.

Highlighting the fragility of Congo's peace, Kinshasa's reaction, which included the deployment of about 10,000 soldiers into North Kivu, prompted clashes between pro-Kinshasa forces and former Rwandan-backed factions within the Congolese army.

The African Union also called for the United Nations to bolster its mission in Congo, where peacekeepers have been accused in the past of failing to use their mandate to step in, stop fighting, and protect civilians.

The mission is receiving reinforcements from India and Pakistan and, by the middle of next month, will total nearly 18,000 peacekeepers, making it the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping mission.

But the United Nations said fresh fighting had begun in two areas of eastern Congo during the past week, underlining the lawless nature of the mineral-rich region and again forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes for shelter.