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30 Nov 2004 17:19
A top army official in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) called on Tuesday for “more dynamic” measures to disarm rebels and militias in the region, saying he was unimpressed by the current campaign.
General Felix Budja Mabe, who runs army operations in South Kivu province, told reporters in the main town, Bukavu, that a joint disarmament operation undertaken by the army and the United Nations mission in DRC, Monuc, was “not effective”.
Early in November, DRC troops and Monuc peacekeepers launched a bid to get more than a dozen armed groups long active in Sud-Kivu and other volatile parts of eastern DRC, to disarm voluntarily.
These particularly include Rwandan Hutus now mostly grouped into the armed Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who are held responsible for the small neighbouring country’s genocide in 1994, in which at least 800 000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, were killed, according to UN figures.
The general said it was “vital that we move on to a second, much more dynamic stage” in disarmament, stating that current efforts to persuade the militias to disarm and return home simply let “the FDLR and the [Rwandan] Interahamwe militia make a mockery of Monuc and the 10th regional military command”.
Budja Mabe added that he had ordered his troops deployed in the Walungu region, where Rwandan rebels killed a DRC soldier last week, to open fire and retaliate if they were attacked again.
The general was speaking on the same day that Rwandan President Paul Kagame hinted that Rwandan troops were back in eastern DRC to hunt down and tackle the Hutu extremists.
“Any time the UN and the international community fail to disarm Interhamwe and ex-FAR [former Rwandan soldiers] and to contain them, we shall do it ourselves, and this will not take long, or it is even happening now,” Kagame told the Senate in Kigali, according to an official translation of a speech he made in the Kinyarwanda language.
Also on Tuesday, a Rwandan rebel group based in eastern DRC said “a brigade” of Rwandan troops had crossed over into DRC and were headed for Masisi in North Kivu province and Bunia, the main town in the powderkeg northeastern region of Ituri.
Monuc said it has combed the area for the Rwandans and come up empty-handed.
“Following rumours of a Rwandan presence in DRC or of clashes, Monuc, which works with the Congolese army—criss-crossed the region which extends from Lake Edward [in Ituri] to Goma [North Kivu], as well as the areas around Minova and Rutshuru [South Kivu], undertaking reconnaissance missions,” Monuc spokesman Mamadou Bah said.
He said that the UN team had reported “no incidents” and not been able to verify the presence in DRC of troops from Rwanda which, along with Uganda, was one of the half-dozen African countries directly involved in a war which ravaged the DRC between 1998 and 2003.
A DRC diplomat said at a summit of French-speaking nations in Burkina Faso at the weekend that Kagame’s threats to launch military strikes were motivated by the abundant mineral wealth in its giant western neighbour.
If Rwanda were to make good on its threat to send troops into DRC, Kinshasa would look on the move as “an act of aggression, pure and simple” that would drag in the UN, the diplomat said.
Many fear it would reignite the war in the DRC that cost an estimated 2,5 million lives, either directly in combat or through disease and hunger.
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