/ 20 January 2009

Rwandan troops enter DRC to hunt rebels, says diplomat

Rwandan troops crossed the border into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Tuesday under a December agreement between the two countries to hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels, a Western diplomat in the eastern DRC city of Goma said.

”They are there. Monuc [the United Nations peacekeeping force] has seen them,” the diplomat said, adding that about 1 500 to 2 000 Rwandan troops had crossed the border.

After an offensive last year by Congolese Tutsi rebels, who say they need to protect themselves from the Rwandan Hutu fighters, the Rwandan and Congolese governments agreed on December 5 to launch joint operations against the Rwandan Hutu rebels.

The UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s biggest and known by its French acronym Monuc, acknowledged the operation but gave no details.

”Monuc takes note of this latest development and is following very closely the situation on the ground,” it said in a statement.

”Monuc has not participated in the planning of the operation and is not participating in it. But this development is the follow-up to the agreement signed on December 5 2008 between the DRC government and the Rwandan government,” it said.

The presence in eastern DRC of Rwandan Hutu rebels, 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 neighbouring countries.

Rwanda and DRC 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 have sided with the Hutu fighters.

A Reuters reporter at Kibati, just north of North Kivu’s provincial capital Goma, said Congolese army soldiers were preventing all vehicles, including UN peacekeepers, from going further north.

But General Vainqueur Mayala, the commander of the Congolese army in North Kivu, which saw the worst of the Tutsi rebel offensive late last year, said he was unaware of Rwandan soldiers in the area.

”Me, I’m not aware. I couldn’t say yes or no. That would be difficult to say right now,” he said. – Reuters