Congo Says U.N. Must Forcibly Disarm Rwandan Rebels

KIGALI (Reuters) - The United Nations must forcibly disarm Rwandan Hutu militias at the heart of years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo one of the country's four vice-presidents said on Wednesday.

Vice-president Azarias Ruberwa said Congo wanted the U.N. Security Council to beef up the mandate of its 11,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) to help hunt down and forcibly disarm the Interahamwe.

"We are going to push the Security Council to give MONUC a stronger mandate to work hand in hand with the Congolese government to disarm the Interahamwe by force," Ruberwa told journalists after meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali on Wednesday.

Rwanda has repeatedly complained that neither the U.N. nor the Congolese are rooting out extremists known as Interahamwe, who fled to Congo after committing the 1994 genocide, when some 800,000 people died in 100 days of ethnic slaughter.

The presence of thousands of Rwandan rebels in eastern Congo over the past decade has fueled ongoing regional instability and was specifically used by Kigali as justification for invading Congo in 1996 and 1998.

The U.N. mission estimates about 10,000 rebels remain in eastern Congo. For the moment, however, its mandate only allows it to disarm and repatriate combatants that put themselves forward for the process.

The U.N. Security Council last month told its troubled peacekeeping mission to remain in place for two more months while it overhauls the mission's mandate.


Rwanda expressed outrage last week after 25 Rwandan rebels who were surrounded by Congolese forces and interviewed by U.N. civilians held on to their weapons and escaped the next day.

Congo's army, which pledged to investigate the escape, has in the past collaborated with the Hutu rebels but denies it still does so.

The partially reformed army is still weak and remains largely divided as Africa's third largest nation struggles to recover from a five-year war that killed 3 million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

Although a cease-fire took effect in 1999, regular outbreaks of violence continue in the resource-rich east, where diplomats say some militia groups serve as proxies for Rwanda and Uganda.

Ruberwa, the leader of a former Rwanda-backed rebel army during Congo's war, said Congo was creating several mobile reaction forces to actively hunt down the Interahamwe, though he did not specify when they would be ready.

"We are soon going to set brigades, two or three, which will be charged with attacking these forces wherever they are, especially in the two Kivu provinces," he said, referring to the region bordering Rwanda.

The Security Council hopes to complete by Oct. 1 a top-to-bottom revamp of the mission that likely would include a big increase in the number of peacekeepers and creation of a rapid reaction force to contain violence in eastern Congo.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to offer his recommendations on needed changes by mid-August, after he reviews a report by a U.N. team assessing needs across Congo.

By Finbarr O'Reilly
Aug 15, 2004
© Copyright 2004-2005

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