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Secretary-General urges Rwanda to refrain from fighting on Congolese territory

Secretary-General urges Rwanda to refrain from fighting on Congolese territory

Expressing deep concern, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today said Rwanda should not interrupt the Democratic Republic of Congo's political transition by fighting against former rebel Rwandan Hutu militiamen in the eastern DRC.

"The Secretary-General is very disturbed by the increasing tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, particularly by indications from Rwanda of military operations on DRC territory against ex-FAR/Interahamwe elements which Rwanda maintains are a threat to its security," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in a statement.

"The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Rwanda to refrain from any military action on DRC territory, which would disrupt the vital transitional process in the DRC. He hopes that Rwanda will work within the established process for the disarming and repatriation of the remaining ex-FAR/Interahamwe elements still in DRC territory."

Rwanda should share any information it had on the location of the militiamen with the Kinshasa Government and the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC), he said.

Rwanda's Hutu extremist militias, who have been blamed for the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994, fled across the border into mineral-rich DRC, and were pursued by the Rwandan army in 1996 and 1998.

Assessing what is thought to be the latest incursion, a team from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) went to an area of the DRC bordering Rwanda, North Kivu province, and heard claims from some of the 2,000 newly displaced people pouring in there that fierce fighting was taking place, Mr. Eckhard told journalists in New York.

MONUC, meanwhile, had gathered "compelling evidence" that Rwandan soldiers were in the eastern DRC, he said.

"The mission's helicopter reconnaissance patrols have taken photos of abandoned bivouacs and well-equipped soldiers who are moving with new uniforms and materials," Mr. Eckhard reported.

"As well, mission patrols have been getting consistent and coherent information from locals about hundreds of Rwandans that have crossed into the DRC."

The large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Kivu could suffer dire humanitarian consequences since they were continuing to arrive with little or no food and had already overwhelmed the existing health services, Mr. Eckhard warned.

Meanwhile, MONUC said members of a joint Congolese-Ugandan mission had addressed another 2,000 people in a stadium in Eringeti, on the border between the provinces of North Kivu and Orientale.

The joint mission called on unidentified Ugandan rebel militias in the crowd to seize the opportunity to get amnesty, go home under the demobilization, disarmament and repatriation programme, and allow the DRC to hold its elections, which are scheduled to take place next June.