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Rwandan troops enter Congo to hunt Hutu rebels
Tue Jan 20, 2009 6:07am EST
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By John Kanyunyu
KIBATI, Congo (Reuters) - Up to 2,000 Rwandan troops crossed into eastern Congo Tuesday under a December agreement between the two countries to hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels, Congo's government and United Nations peacekeepers said.
After an offensive last year by Congolese Tutsi rebels, who say they need to defend themselves against the Rwandan Hutu fighters, the Rwandan and Congolese governments agreed on December 5 to launch joint operations against the Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels.
"The operations are beginning. We have invited Rwandan officers with their security contingents for their safety. They are observers ... The operations to disarm the FDLR are planned for length of 10 to 15 days," Lambert Mende, Congo's information minister and government spokesman, told Reuters.
The size of the Rwandan deployment appeared to be more than a simple observation mission.
"We are not going to discuss the issues of these operations with the media. There is an operational plan for the whole operation and it is a secret document," Rwandan military spokeswoman Major Jill Rutaremara told Reuters in Kigali.
"I can't confirm whether there are troops in DRC because all those are operational questions," she said.
A Reuters reporter at Kibati, just north of Goma, North Kivu's provincial capital, saw Congolese army soldiers stopping all vehicles, including U.N. peacekeepers, from going north.
"This morning between 1,500 and 2,000 RDF (Rwanda Defense Forces) crossed the border in the Munigi-Kibati zone," Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, military spokesman for the U.N. force, MONUC, said.
"We saw them deploy, leaving Kibati heading north on the Goma-Rutshuru axis," he said. MONUC, the biggest U.N. peace force, said it had not been involved in planning the operation.
Congolese army forces were on the move with tanks, armored personnel carriers and mobile rocket launchers, Dietrich said.
YEARS OF BLOODSHED
The presence in eastern Congo of rebels of the mostly Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), many of whom participated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, has been at the heart of more than a decade of bloodshed.
A 1998-2003 war sucked in the armies of half a dozen nearby countries, including Rwanda and neighboring Uganda, which each backed rival rebel forces. The war and a resulting humanitarian catastrophe have killed an estimated 5.4 million people.
Rwanda and Congo have agreed on several occasions to cooperate to tackle the Hutu rebels, but have failed to do so in the past amid widespread accusations that Congolese government forces, who are notoriously ill-disciplined and ineffective, have sided with the FDLR Hutu fighters.
Fighting flared again in North Kivu last October, when the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a Congolese Tutsi rebel group led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda ended a ceasefire and launched an offensive against Goma. Continued...
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