The Democratic Republic of Congo says it plans to send up to 10,000 troops to the eastern province of North Kivu, which borders Rwanda. The move follows repeated warnings from the government in Kigali that it may send soldiers into Congo to target Rwandan Hutu rebels.

Following a week during which neighboring Rwanda has issued a series of threats to send soldiers into eastern Congo, the government in Kinshasa has responded by announcing that it will deploy two-to-three brigades in North Kivu within two weeks.

A Congolese brigade consists of roughly 3,200 men, meaning the number of Congolese troops that could be sent to the border could be close to 10,000.

Announcing the deployment, presidential spokesman Kudura Kasongo said the soldiers would be tasked with preventing the rebels from launching an attack on Rwanda. But, he stressed, they would also be there to prevent any Rwandan soldiers from coming into Congo.

Rwanda has said it must send its troops into Congo to disarm the rebels before they attack. Many of the rebels took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, killing an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus before fleeing to eastern Congo.

Kigali argues that the Congolese government and the United Nations have failed to disarm the rebels, now known as the Democratic Forces for Rwandan Liberation.

The international community has called for restraint, urging Rwanda not to take steps that would break international law.

Rwandan soldiers have already entered Congo twice, in 1996 and 1998, ostensibly to hunt down the rebels, and a voluntary U.N. repatriation program has being running for three years. But some 10,000 gunmen remain in Congo.

Following the Rwandan threats to return its troops to Congo, diplomats, analysts and local sources have said that hundreds of Rwandan soldiers, maybe several thousand, are already in eastern Congo. But the U.N. mission has investigated the claims, and says it has found no proof of their presence.

There is a fear that the latest escalation of tensions between Congo and Rwanda will disrupt Congo's fragile peace process.

A transitional government is due to guide Congo to elections next year, following the end of a five-year war that killed three million people, mostly from hunger and disease.