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09 Nov 2004 15:27
Three thousand troops of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) regular army have deployed in the country’s eastern Walungu area to stabilise a region where Rwandan rebels are active, the army said on Tuesday.
“At least 3 000 men arrived on Monday in Walungu to stabilise the territory and protect the population,” the spokesperson for the army’s 10th military region, Lieutenant Kasanda wa Kasanda, said in Bukavu.
Last week, the army announced it will deploy soldiers with the backing of the United Nations mission in the DRC (Monuc) to track down Hutu rebels from neighbouring Rwanda who are active in long-troubled eastern parts of the DRC.
Walungu, which lies about 80km south of Bukavu, the chief town of Sud-Kivu province, has for 10 years been a place of refuge for Rwandan former government troops and Interahamwe extremist militias held responsible for genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
The presence of these armed groups on DRC territory endangers local people who are submitted to theft, rape and sometimes murder, while it is also a main source of ongoing tension between the DRC and Rwanda, which backed DRC rebels in the 1998-to-2003 war in the huge Central African country.
Kasanda said the troop deployment was still under way on Tuesday in places around Walungu, and gave no time frame for the military operation.
However, he said the deployment will be followed by a campaign to try to convince Rwandan rebels based in the mountains of Sud-Kivu to “surrender with a view to repatriating them”.
This campaign “will last two months ... If they fail to accept it, we’ll head to a third phase which will consist of forced disarmament and repatriation,” he added.
The operation is the first joint effort by the DRC army and Monuc to neutralise the Rwandan rebels since the UN peacekeeping and monitoring force was set up in November 1999.
The Rwandans on Tuesday said they “will never accept being disarmed by force”, according to a statement released in Brussels and signed by their spokesperson, Anastase Munyandekwe.—Sapa-AFP
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