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Africa
Rwanda seeks closer DR Congo ties
President says two countries will build on co-operation over rebel leader's arrest.
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2009 12:13 GMT
Up to two million people have been displaced by the violence in eastern DR Congo [AFP]

Rwanda is working to improve ties with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo after years of unrest in the two countries, Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, says.

As part of that aim, Rwanda assisted in last week's arrest of Laurent Nkunda, leader of a group of rebel fighters battling government forces in northern DR Congo, Kagame told Al Jazeera.

Nkunda's forces, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), split from the Congolese army in 2007 with the stated aim of protecting Tutsis from Hutu fighters in the region.

Meanwhile, the first of Nkunda's more than 6,000-strong force took part in a ceremony on Thursday to reintegrate their units into the regular army.

The CNDP controlled large parts of eastern Congo with the tacit support of Kagame, and the two were reputed to be close strategic allies.

'Working together'

Circumstances apparently shifted after Nkunda's forces were accused of committing war crimes, and Kagame - under pressure for the West - struck a deal with Joseph Kabila, the DR Congo president, last month.

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"In working together, we had to confront and deal with two problems, one is the FDLR [Hutu fighters] problem - that is genocidal forces in the DRC that had to be dealt with," Kagame said.

"And secondly, we had to work together again to deal with the problem of the eastern Congo conflict which is otherwise internal to the Congo, but has links to Rwanda."

Protracted fighting in eastern Congo between Nkunda's forces, Hutu fighters, and at times the DR Congo army, has displaced around two million people - and the violence has threatened to spill over the border.

The Rwandan army has crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo to disarm the Hutu fighters that fled there after the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Sporadic clashes between the Rwandan army and the FDLR have gone on for a week, Laforge Fils, a rebel spokesman, told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

Thousands more troops are expected to join the operation.

According to Kagame, both countries are now working to improve ties.

"First, we've been working together to normalise our relations. Secondly, to build on that and confront the challenges that are there in terms of the crisis that has been there for very long, and therefore deal with the problems that underlie this conflict," he said.

Nkunda, currently in Rwandan custody, is likely to be extradited to Congo to stand trial. Kagame said he hoped that would happen next month.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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