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21 Jan 2009 16:36
A surge of Rwandan troops into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of a joint operation with government forces to oust a Hutu militia has stirred Congolese memories of past atrocities blamed on Rwandan forces.
On the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, locals expressed anger and apprehension over the offensive being carried out more than 1 500km to the east of the vast Central African country.
Rwandan forces twice invaded in the 1990s in pursuit of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda).
“At the beginning, they told us it would be Rwandan intelligence officers observing the operation. Now, the Rwandan army has frankly just barged into our country,” said civil servant Michel.
“My fear is that the Rwandan soldiers will profit from this operation by looting our riches and killing innocent people, as they did during when they occupied our country from 1998 to 2003,” he added.
About 2 000 Rwandan troops entered eastern DRC on Tuesday under a joint agreement with Kinshasa to oust the FDLR, which has been at the centre of unrest in the region for more than a decade.
Parliament speaker Vital Kamerhe said in a radio interview that the assembly had not been informed about the operation.
“If what I’m told is true, it’s quite simply grave.
It raises lots of questions,” Kamerhe told the United Nations-run Radio Okapi, widely broadcast in eastern DRC.
Businesswoman Marie-Jeanne asked: “Why do the authorities of our country have to call once again on Rwanda, which is at the core of the situation that we all know in Kivu?
“Have they already forgotten the massacres and the rapes committed by Rwandan soldiers on Congolese soil?”
University of Kinshasa law student Moses said the Rwandan move would lead to the break up of DRC, a country the size of Western Europe.
“We are looking at the Balkanisation of DRC advocated by Western countries and the United States, Britain and France,” he said.
“But they won’t succeed in separating us.
He warned there could be grave consequences for the government after failing to consult Parliament about the decision.
“The government’s initiative without referring to the other institutions such as the National Assembly risks provoking the break-up of the Parliament majority,” said the MP.
Local groups in Nord-Kivu province condemned “the illegal and unconstitutional character of the operation” and pledged “to use all the means at their disposal to stop this diabolical plan”.
They demanded the immediate repatriation of the Rwandan forces.
Newspapers took a similarly jaundiced view of the operation.
“Kinshasa trapped by Rwandan troops’ entry” said Le Potentiel daily on its front page, adding that the war against a Congolese rebel group, the CNDP, was being followed by another conflict.
“It’s as if the guns never fall silent in Kivu, preventing the local populations from living in peace,” the centrist daily said.
Another Kinshasa daily, Le Phare, which is close to the opposition, raised concerns over the “unknown factors of a military operation”.
“Rwanda: Safari in DR Congo!” blared a front page headline in the daily.—Sapa-AFP
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