Brown: Congo must not become another Rwanda

By James Tapsfield and Gavin Cordon, PA

Gordon Brown warned today that the world must not allow a repeat of the Rwandan genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Prime Minister spoke out in the Saudi capital Riyadh on the first leg of his tour of Gulf states amid mounting fears of a humanitarian catastrophe in the central African state.

The current conflict in the Congo has is roots in the genocide 14 years ago in neighbouring Rwanda where up to a million people were killed when Hutu extremists turned on their Tutsi neighbours.

"I am very concerned by the situation in the Congo," Mr Brown said. "Thousands have been displaced. We must not allow Congo to become another Rwanda."

But despite Mr Brown's strong words, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has played down the prospect of British troops being sent to the DRC to bolster the United Nations peacekeeping force.

Mr Miliband yesterday flew into the Congo with French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner in a joint attempt to help find a diplomatic solution to renewed conflict between rebel and government forces.

Earlier, however, Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown had disclosed that contingency plans were be drawn up for the deployment of a European Union force - including UK troops - to support the UN.

However, with UK forces already stretched fighting on two fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr Miliband was quick to pour cold water on the suggestion that British troops could soon be caught up in a new overseas entanglement.

"We are not at the moment looking at sending British troops to join the UN force," he told reporters during a visit to a refugee camp in eastern DRC.

"Seventeen thousand are in the country at the moment. What we do need to do is make sure that those troops are properly deployed in the regions that are under the greatest stress so that the humanitarian aid can get in."

Nevertheless the fact the ministers are willing to discuss the possibility that British troops could be sent to the region will be seen as an indication of just how serious the situation has become.

Some 250,000 people are thought have fled their homes in recent weeks since the breakdown of a UN-brokered ceasefire in the region.

The rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda has said that he returned to arms in order to protect his Tutsi community from Rwandan Hutus who fled to DRC after carrying out the genocide of 1994.

However his own forces - which are now poised on the outskirts of the regional capital Goma, after DRC government troops fled in the face of their advance - have also acquired a reputation for murder, rape and looting.

Mr Miliband and Mr Kouchner - yesterday met the Congolese president Joseph Kabila for talks in the capital Kinshasa - before flying on to Rwanda for further discussions with the country's president, Paul Kagame.

The Rwandans have been accused of supporting Gen Nkunda - a claim they deny - while the rebels in turn accuse the Congolese government of backing the Hutu militias.

Mr Miliband and Mr Kouchner were hoping that they could persuade the two presidents - who have now agreed to meet - to use their influence to bring the fighting to an end.

"We know that while humanitarian aid depends on security, security depends on a proper political process. That's what we were discussing," Mr Miliband said.

Shadow international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said that the Conservatives would support the deployment of the EU battlegroup to the Congo to bolster the UN peacekeeping force.

However he said that countries other than Britain should take the lead.

"There are a large number of other European countries with military forces which could help who are nothing like as overstretched as Britain is," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.