Rwanda has made a thinly veiled threat to send its troops back into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after accusing the government in Kinshasa of collaborating with genocidal Hutu extremists on its border.
The Rwandan government said a Congolese army assault against a renegade Tutsi general, Laurent Nkunda, is helping to strengthen Hutu rebels who have been armed by Kinshasa and are fighting alongside government troops.
It has also accused the United Nations and the DRC of a lack of political will to solve the problem of Hutu extremism that continues to destabilise the region and fuels conflict that costs thousands of civilian lives each month through disease and hunger.
Nkunda says he is fighting to protect Tutsis from attacks by the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), which is led by Hutus responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.
Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, said that if the DRC wants to pursue Nkunda it must also confront the Hutu rebels who control about 20% of the two provinces that border Rwanda and say they are intent on overthrowing the Tutsi-led administration in Kigali.
”On this issue of the FDLR we have a certain bottom line,” Kagame told a press conference. ”The bottom line is they cannot stay. They cannot destabilise our country, they cannot be allowed to destabilise in any way our security for our people. So we will do what we have within our means to deal with that. No question about it.”
Kagame did not specify what means he was referring to but, given that Rwanda has twice invaded the DRC in the past 11 years to fight Hutu extremists, his comments were widely interpreted as a threat to send in his troops.
Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, Charles Murigande, told the Guardian that Kigali was prepared to use force.
”We shall fight the FDLR the best way we can possibly fight them,” he said. ”The FDLR should know and everybody should know that we are ready to fight the FDLR if that’s what they want.”
But Murigande said that Rwanda had no plans at this stage to intervene unilaterally. ”If there is a need to intervene we shall intervene in agreement with the DRC,” he said.
But Murigande said that cooperation between Congolese government forces and the FDLR, who have joined the assault on Nkunda, confirms fears in Kigali that Kinshasa is not serious about confronting the armed Hutu groups that threaten Rwanda.
”We tell [DRC’s leaders] that these facts do not contribute to build confidence between us and trust in what they are telling us. So if the government of DRC decide they don’t want to live in trust with us, that has consequences for our region, for the stability of our region,” he said.
”I think any responsible leader would not desire to live in a region of such instability. We hope at one point they will decide how they want to live with us.”
UN security officials and some diplomats in the region believe Rwanda is providing ammunition and other support to Nkunda.
The Rwandan government denies it but there is little doubt that he serves Rwanda’s interests as the leader of the only force in eastern DRC willing to confront the FDLR. Kagame said he understood some of Nkunda’s motives. ”This man, like him or not and with whatever mistakes you could hold him accountable for, he has some political grievances that are legitimate. His own people are being exterminated in the same way that these FDLR people did in Rwanda,” he said.
Murigande questioned why the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force was backing the Congolese government’s assault against Nkunda by ferrying troops and ammunition, without pursuing the FDLR. He accused UN soldiers and officials of being in league with the Hutu rebels after revelations that some were involved in gold smuggling from mines controlled by the insurgents. – Guardian Unlimited Ã‚