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Uganda Denies Sending Troops to Congo

Uganda is denying media reports that the country has begun sending some of its troops back into war-torn eastern Congo. The report comes weeks after Uganda withdrew most of its forces from its neighbor, as part of an agreement aimed at ending the four-year-long war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda's minister of state for foreign affairs, Kahinda Otafirre, tells VOA the government has not sent fresh troops into the Ituri region of northeast Congo, as reported by a news agency Thursday.

The news agency says it received a statement from the Ugandan-backed rebel group, Rally for Congolese Democracy Liberation Movement, which claimed that 750 Ugandan soldiers had arrived in Ituri on Monday, and that another battalion was on its way. A rebel spokesman says the Ugandan redeployment follows a recent bloody clash between his group and a rival rebel faction in Ituri. The region has been the site of numerous ethnic and factional fighting since Ugandan forces began pulling out late September.

Mr. Otafirre says the troops arriving in Ituri are actually soldiers being moved from the northeastern town of Bunia, near the Ugandan border. Last month, Uganda - at the request of the United Nations Mission in Congo - left several hundred soldiers in Bunia to help quell renewed ethnic clashes in that area. "We never pulled out of those areas," said Kahinda Otafirre. "We agreed that we would keep troops on the western slopes of Mount Rwenzori because of the security threat. We agreed that we would stay there until Congo is able to control that place completely."

Mr. Otafirre says the security threat now is coming from Allied Defense Forces, a Ugandan rebel group that for years has used bases in Congo to launch attacks against Ugandan forces and their allies. The government in Kampala says the group has been stepping up its campaign in recent weeks.

Last month, a United Nations panel accused high-ranking military and political leaders of Uganda, Rwanda, and four other African nations involved in the war of setting up criminal networks to plunder Congo's huge mineral and natural resources.

The panel charged that Uganda and Rwanda, in particular, are deliberately trying to stir up factional and ethnic fighting in mineral-rich eastern Congo, so that they can send back their troops and reoccupy the areas.

Both countries have rejected the panel's report. Uganda insists its troops will be fully withdrawn from eastern Congo, once the United Nations and local groups find another force strong enough to maintain security along its border.