Rwandan troops enter DR Congo to pursue Hutu rebels
AFP - 1 hour 16 minutes ago
GOMA, DR Congo (AFP) - - Hundreds of Rwandan troops rolled into the Democratic Republic of Congo Tuesday to join Congolese forces hunting Rwandan rebels operating there since 1994, military officials said.
At least 800 troops crossed into the east of the country, western military sources said, as part of an operation agreed between the two countries in December.
The move was a sign of new cooperation between the Great Lakes neighbours after years of antipathy. "We have extended an invitation to the Rwandan army," Communications Minister Laurent Mende told AFP in Kinshasa.
He said the joint operation was being directed by the Congo army and supported by the UN peacekeeping force, known as MONUC.
The Rwandans have a "mandate" to hunt Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels who took refuge in Congo after Rwanda's 1994 genocide, the minister said.
The operation could change the military landscape of the unstable region. Fighting between the army, with militia allies, and Rwandan and Congolese rebels has forced more than a million people to flee their homes since 2006.
The UN says that much of the fighting is motivated by control of the region's vast mineral resources.
The Rwandan army entered its giant neighbour 35 kilometres (20 miles) north of Goma, capital of Nord-Kivu province, on territory held by Congolese rebels sympathetic to Kigali's Tutsi-led regime.
National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels, which wrenched vast swathes of eastern Congo from government control last year, say they are defending local Tutsis against the Hutu rebels, some of whom took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
To the south, the Congolese army's 18th brigade has been ordered to move north across CNDP frontlines towards the rebel-held town of Ruthshuru, western military sources said.
The road north out of Goma was blocked early Tuesday by government soldiers, who were preventing journalists, UN peacekeepers and NGOs from passing, an AFP photographer said.
Other government units have been reportedly dispatched to the Masisi region, where a CNDP splinter group is headquartered.
The CNDP swept to control of a vast swathe of Nord-Kivu province after an autumn offensive against ill-disciplined government forces, before calling a ceasefire as they reached the outskirts of Goma.
On Friday, weeks after a split in the rebel ranks was first announced, dissident commander Bosco Ntaganda declared the war over and said he was putting CNDP forces at the disposal of the government to fight their common Hutu enemy.
However, there has been no confirmation from the CNDP's longtime leader Laurent Nkunda amid signs that he has been sidelined by senior officers.
Nkunda's spokesman said however that his Tutsi rebels would not prevent the two government armies from traversing its territory to track down the Hutu FDLR.
The spokesman, Bertrand Bisimwa, told AFP that the rebels expected to reach their own agreement with the Kinsahsa government in ongoing UN-mediated talks in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, which have been adjourned to January 25.
Meanwhile there were signs on the ground that CNDP soldiers were surrendering to government forces. An AFP journalist in Goma saw three trucks loaded with CNDP troops crossing the city, where a UN unit tasked with disarming rebels is based.
FDLR chairman Ignace Murwanashyaka said there had been no clashes with Rwandan troops.
But he slammed what he called "a coalition for an unjust cause" and said the FDLR wanted dialogue. "In Burundi, the government negotiated with the opposition. Talks are under way in Uganda. Why should Rwanda be an exception?" Murwanashyaka told AFP from Germany.
Kinshasa and Kigali announced on December 5 that they were ready to join forces to flush out the FDLR's estimated 6,000 fighters in eastern Congo.
Over the years, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused Kinshasa of doing nothing to disarm the FDLR, which counts among its ranks some of the main perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against Rwanda's Tutsi minority.
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