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25 Feb 2009 16:26
Rwandan troops began withdrawing from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday, stoking fears that Rwandan Hutu rebels will step up reprisals against civilians and retake ground they lost during a month-long offensive against them.
Rwanda sent thousands of troops into DRC’s North Kivu province last month and the former enemies have been conducting joint operations against Rwandan Hutu rebels seen as a root cause of 15 years of conflict in the region.
Officials have said all Rwandan troops are due to leave in the next few days, following intense pressure on DRC President Joseph Kabila from domestic critics who note that previous Rwandan forays into the DRC during two recent wars were marked by alleged abuse and looting of natural resources.
Hundreds of soldiers crossed the border in the eastern Congolese town of Goma, most marching on foot, others riding on military trucks, to be greeted by cheering crowds in Rwanda.
The pull-out has prompted fears within the United Nations’s biggest peacekeeping force that the mainly Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels, who have mostly avoided clashes with the joint force, will seek revenge.
“The planned pull-out of [Rwandan] troops raises concerns about the protection of the civilian population, given the limited capacity and professionalism of [Congolese] troops,” read an internal UN memorandum, which was seen by Reuters.
“Although the FDLR has mostly vacated the areas upon the arrival of the joint forces, it is likely that they are waiting in the bush for the forces to retreat and then come back to retaliate on civilians perceived as being traitors,” it said.
“In this context, incidents of FDLR attacking civilian populations, looting, raping and killing, are on the rise.”—Reuters
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