Rwandan troops enter Congo to hunt Hutu rebels

Tue Jan 20, 2009 3:43pm GMT

By John Kanyunyu

KIBATI, Congo (Reuters) - Rwandan troops crossed into eastern Congo on Tuesday in a joint military operation by the Great Lakes neighbours to disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels seen as a root cause of more than a decade of conflict.

Both governments presented the operation as a move to finally pacify the east of Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting flared again late last year during an advance by Tutsi insurgents who are sworn enemies of the Rwandan Hutu rebels.

Analysts said allowing the Rwandan forces in was a risky strategy for Congolese President Joseph Kabila, whose government army has been been often accused by critics of using the FDLR to fight armed opponents and keep Tutsi-led Rwanda at bay.

The presence of the Rwandan Hutu FDLR fighters, who finance themselves by exploiting illegal mines in the mineral-rich east, triggered two previous Rwandan invasions of Congo that led to a wider 1998-2003 conflict. It also helped cause a 2004 rebellion by the Congo Tutsi rebels who went on the offensive in October.

Diplomats and U.N. peacekeepers said that up to 2,000 Rwandan troops crossed the border into eastern Congo on Tuesday under a December joint accord to act against the mostly Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The FDLR's strength is estimated at around 6,000 fighters, spread across North and South Kivu.

"The operations are beginning. We have invited Rwandan officers with their security contingents for their safety. They are observers," Congo's information minister Lambert Mende said.

He added the operations to disarm FDLR fighters were planned to last 10 to 15 days and be restricted to North and South Kivu.   Continued...

<p>Congolese troops at the airport in the eastern city of Goma prepare to be redeployed to another part of the country, December 5, 2004. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>
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