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Aid Agencies Fear Instability in DRC After Rwanda Withdrawal

Relief organizations are concerned that Rwanda's withdrawal from the Democratic Republic of Congo could lead to an upsurge in violence, worsening the humanitarian crisis.

Aid agencies are worried that the withdrawal of Rwandan forces from eastern Congo could inflame an already desperate situation. Rwanda, which has been controlling one-third of its giant neighbor's territory, is expected to pull out all 23,000 of its troops by Friday.

Jean-Charles Dei, who works with the U.N. World Food Program in Bukavu, on the Congo-Rwanda border, believes Rwanda's withdrawal will leave a dangerous power vacuum in eastern Congo.

Mr. Dei says the Congolese rebels who are moving in to replace the Rwandan forces survive by looting from local people.

"These people are not well paid, are not paid at all," he said. "Their only tool of production is the weapon. And so they are making their own law in getting whatever they need. So you know in that case there is no rules, no kind of normal plans. Every armed people is the king. The Congolese people are exposed to be looted, to be raped etcetera. So this is a tragedy, what is going on here."

Last week, when Rwandan troops left the Congo town of Kindu, 350 kilometers west of the border, gun battles erupted between rival armed groups within a few hours. Fifty people were killed and the World Food Program had to suspend its operations in the town.

Mr. Dei says such problems are preventing the organization from reaching three-quarters of the 900,000 people in eastern Congo who are in urgent need of food and medicine.

But Francois Grignon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, an independent advocacy organization, believes the current flare-up in fighting is only temporary.

Mr. Grignon believes the rival factions are trying to secure their positions ahead of the next round of national power-sharing talks, aimed at ending Congo's four-year civil war.

He says the dominant force in eastern Congo is the Rally for Congolese Democracy, the RCD, which has greatly benefited from the backing of Rwanda.

"Now the RCD is creating mayhem because the RCD now is challenged and they want to confirm that they are actually a credible interlocutor for the inclusive negotiations," Mr. Grignon said. "If they do it in a way, which is coherent with political negotiations, fine. If they do it through terror, it is not going to work."

The RCD announced Wednesday it is ready to hold talks with the Mai Mai militia which attacked them in Kindu last week.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has not yet set a date for the next round of negotiations with the rebels.