Article published on the 2009-01-21 Latest update 2009-01-21 17:02 TU
DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende announced his government’s decision, saying, “we need them to be there so as to kill this lack of confidence that was destroying our relationship [with Rwanda]. They are not there for combat operations.”
For security reasons, Mende would not give the actual number of Congolese or Rwandan troops involved in the operation, but he did specify that Rwandan forces would not be under Congolese command. “They are there to witness and to report to their government and to restore confidence between the two countries,” he told RFI.
However, the UN peacekeeping force in DRC, Monuc, said that up to 4,000 Rwandan troops have entered eastern DRC since Tuesday as part of a joint military operation.
Mende also claimed that Monuc would be participating in the operation, a claim they deny. Monuc spokesman Jean-Paul Dietrich noted that peacekeeping forces were being kept from the area of operations by government roadblocks. “This behaviour is unacceptable,” he said.
Tension between DRC and Rwanda has been high for years since Hutu militias, or Interahamwe, fled Rwanda following the 1994 genocide and began operating out of the densely jungled area in Eastern Congo. Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP rebels formed in part to combat these militias in a region of the country under minimal control from the distant capital.
Sporadic fighting between the Interahamwe, the CNDP and Congolese government forces has displaced more than a million people since 2006, according to the UN. Much of the fighting is in an attempt to control the region’s vast mineral resources.
Showing its support for the operation, the CNDP pulled up its road blocks and allowed government forces to cross its lines to look for Interahamwe.
“The fact that Rwanda and the Congo are working together is very good. It’s something that the region has been waiting for for many years,” said analyst François Grignon, the Africa Director at the International Crisis Group.
But not everyone is happy about the new cross-border initiative. In Kinshasa, opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) condemned the plan, saying that it reflected President Joseph Kabila’s poor control of his own country.
“This shows the Congolese government’s failure. It is incapable of ensuring the security of its people in eastern Congo and allows neighbouring countries to enter our country to deal with their political problems,” Thomas Luaka, secretary general of the MLC, told RFI.
“We hear that 1500 Rwandan soldiers crossed over into Congo, and I don’t believe we need 1500 intelligence officers. So we think that they will be taking part in the fighting, and we’re very worried about the security of our people,” he said.
Doubts remain, however, about the effectiveness of a military operation in rooting out the FDLR, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the major Hutu militia operating in the region.
“The FDLR are not going to be dealt with by a military strike. They are going to be dealt with by a combination of military pressure, political dialogue, incentives to disarm and relocate. This is a broader strategy for which […] the support of Monuc and other international actors is going to be necessary,” Grignon said.
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