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Mission Aids Dr of Congo to Move Rebels from East

UN Peacekeeping Mission Aids Dr of Congo National Army to Move Rebels from East

New York, Oct 31 2005 4:00PM

As the national army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) began a two-week operation today to clear thousands of heavily armed Rwandan Hutu rebels from the densely forested Virunga National Park in the east, the United Nations peacekeeping force (MONUC) took up positions to secure the cleared areas.

Five camps belonging to militias in North Kivu province were cleared in the operation's first stage and about 15 militia combatants were captured or surrendered, according to MONUC.

It is the first time the Kinshasa Government has used force against the rebels from neighbouring Rwanda since the expiration a month ago of a deadline for all foreign armed groups to leave the country. The Government recently stepped up the pressure on the groups in the run-up to DRC's first presidential elections in 45 years, due before June of next year.

The drive involves 2,000 Congolese troops, with support from 500 UN peacekeepers, against an estimated 5,000 Hutu rebels, according to Col. Mayank Awasthi, the UN military spokesman in North Kivu province.

"Foreign rebels must first leave Congo for peace to return to eastern Congo," he said, while adding: "The rebels are heavily armed. They have machine guns, rockets and mortar launchers. They are well-organized and difficult to disarm."

Thousands of ethnic Hutus from Rwanda fled to eastern Congo after taking part in the 1994 genocide of more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. They then took up arms against the Tutsi-dominated government that had taken power in Rwanda and began fighting from DRC bases. Some of the rebels now fear reprisals if they return home.

Rwanda invaded DRC twice to hunt down the rebels and in 1998 sparked a five-year war in eastern DRC that drew in six African nations and killed an estimated 4 million people not only directly, but also from a lack of food and health services.

An estimated 15,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels still remain at large in DRC along with 30,000 dependents, mostly their wives and children. The poorly paid DRC soldiers have repeatedly failed to hunt them down.

According to their peacekeeping mandate, UN troops can fire only if they are attacked, or if a civilian population is under threat.

ENDS

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