Congolese officials say hundreds of foreign troops have been spotted in the far west of the Democratic Republic of Congo, less than 400 kilometers from the country's capital Kinshasa. The fighters, who are believed to be Rwandan and Burundian Hutu extremists and Ugandan rebels, were all used as proxies by the former government in Congo's five-year war.
Senior Congolese officials, including Congo's vice president in charge of defense and security, Azarias Ruberwa, confirmed reports of a large group of foreign fighters in the western town of Kikwit, in Bandundu province.
The officials have said that the presence of one such group of foreign fighters raises fear that there may well be more such groups at large in the west of the country. The fighters, made up of Rwandan and Burundian Hutu extremists and Ugandan rebels, officials say, have been used by the former government during Congo's five year war. That war officially ended in July.
The former government of Laurent Kabila had used such fighters - largely in the east of the country - against Congolese rebel groups that are now part of the country's transitional government. The foreign fighter groups had been disbanded as the new government and former rebels embarked on the process of reconciliation.
But some 750 foreign fighters have been spotted in Kikwit again in the first sighting of such groups this far west of the country in many months.
The United Nations, which has a peacekeeping contingent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said it is preparing to send an investigative team to Kikwit this weekend to assess whether the armed groups represent a larger threat.
Meanwhile, in the east of the country, Ugandan rebel groups, such as the Allied Democratic Forces, have been reported collaborating with ethnic Hema militia groups in Ituri province, scene of Congo's latest flashpoint in the lawless east of the country.