Rwanda threatens to reignite Africa's bloodiest conflict

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The Independent Online

Africa's bloodiest war is close to reigniting, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda admitted yesterday. He said his troops would invade Congo in pursuit of rebel Hutu militias unless cross-border attacks stop.

Africa's bloodiest war is close to reigniting, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda admitted yesterday. He said his troops would invade Congo in pursuit of rebel Hutu militias unless cross-border attacks stop.

Mr Kagame accused the Congolese government of exacerbating the situation and said Western powers were "abdicating their responsibility" by failing to disarm the Hutu militias who sought refuge in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Without naming France, he suggested that the French government, which takes the lead in the UN Security Council in dealing with the continued unrest in eastern DRC, was still supporting the Hutu militias by failing to ensure their disarmament.

During a brief visit to London, Mr Kagame was asked whether there was a danger of the war being rekindled by sending Congolese reinforcements to the eastern region. "I think that's a danger," said Mr Kagame, a Tutsi who became the country's strongman after defeating the Hutu-led extremists who launched the 1994 civil war.

"Maybe the DRC government needs to act otherwise instead of escalating the problem. They are entirely responsible for that, they should be resolving that internal problem through other means. The main problem for Rwanda is the external threat from the former Far Interahamwe," he added, referring to the Hutu extremists still inside DRC. He repeated official denials that Rwanda had dispatched troops to Congo, which would be a violation of the peace accords that put an end to the conflict known as Africa's world war.

The conflict drew in six countries and left 3.8 million dead before the peace deal was signed two years ago. But the unrest in the east has continued unabated, despite the presence of a UN mission supposed to oversee the "voluntary" disarmament of rebel groups.

Mr Kagame said Rwanda had sustained 11 rocket attacks since last month from the Congo-based forces. "If we are attacked again we reserve the right to pursue the attackers and that might make us move into Congo," Mr Kagame said.

"The main point is about the history of the genocide in Rwanda and the genocidaires in the Congo. The problem is still there. If nobody takes care of it then we reserve the right to be the ones to deal with it, and unfortunately this might include hot pursuit into the Congo, and this means our forces crossing into the Congo again."

The Congolese government yesterday replaced the army commander in the eastern province of North Kivu, the scene of days of fighting between government reinforcements and rebel units which are backed by Rwanda.

Mr Kagame insisted that Congo was only accusing Rwanda of having already invaded the country to deflect attention from its own failure to implement the peace accords. He accused the government of President Joseph Kabila of failing to integrate the Rwandan-backed rebels of the RCD-Goma into the armed forces.

The President was scathing about the UN response to the violence that has spread across the Great Lakes region in recent months. He said Britain and other powers in the Security Council were trying to change the subject rather than focus on the real issue.

"To disarm voluntarily is something I simply don't understand. I raised it with the UN. I think it's abdicating responsibility. That's why they keep deviating from the main problem and talking about other issues as if trying to keep hiding behind them."

The performance of the UN mission in eastern Congo, known as Monuc, which is embroiled in a sex-abuse scandal, was "very absurd", he said. "It's a huge operation, consuming hundreds of millions of dollars, but I can't see exactly what the results are." Mr Kagame has strained relations with France, which he has accused of training the Hutu militias responsible for the genocide. "They are the only country that has never shown any remorse for what happened. Other countries have apologised. But they think we should be the ones to apologise."

He added: "On Congo, they are always the ones drafting the resolutions in the Security Council, and the tendency is to blame Rwanda for everything, even for things that have been done by Congo or other countries, so that has not helped our relationship."

He did not respond directly when asked whether he believed France actually supported the Hutu militias inside Congo. But he said: " We're seeing how the whole issue has been mishandled as if to preserve their existence. Somebody must behind that."

Mr Kagame said that he saw further proof of the West's "abdication of responsibility" in Africa in placing conflict resolution on the continent in the hands of the African Union, but the fledgling AU needed the necessary financial and logistical resources. "They are overloading it with issues they know they are not fully prepared for, and not giving them the kind of support they need at this point or even in the future." he said.