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Foreign Forces Withdrawn from DRC - 2002-09-19

The withdrawal of foreign forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo is gaining momentum. Uganda says in the last two weeks it has withdrawn two battalions from Congo and is pulling its last soldiers out of the Congolese town of Gbadolite Thursday. After these forces are gone, the only troops it will have in Congo are those requested by the United Nations.

A Ugandan army spokesman says Uganda has just a few dozen troops in Gbadolite and once they are withdrawn the only Ugandan forces remaining in Congo will be there at the request of the United Nations mission for Congo, known as MONUC.

The spokesman, Major Shaban Bantariza, says the Ugandan soldiers are in the Congolese town of Beni, about 1,600 kilometers east of Kinshasa, to prevent fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic communities until U.N. peacekeepers arrive. "We have still one battalion in Beni, which has remained there at the request of MONUC, United Nations, and Kinshasa government," he said. "As soon as [the U.N. peacekeepers] have the capacity to handle [an area that] is usually volatile (because of) ethnic conflicts, we would move out, even if that would be tomorrow."

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a deal with his Congolese counterpart, Joseph Kabila, earlier this month committing Uganda to withdraw its remaining troops from Congo.

Uganda and Rwanda invaded Congo in 1998, in an effort to prevent attacks on their territory by rebels based in Congo.

Unlike Uganda, Rwanda still has many troops in Congo, about 30,000. But it has agreed to withdraw all its soldiers by the end of October.

The removal of foreign forces is crucial to ending Congo's four-year civil war, which has killed some two million people.