US troops `fought in Zaire'

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US military advisers trained the Rwandan army, and former United States special services troops fought in the civil war in the former Zaire over the last two years, according to the French newspaper Le Monde.

The newspaper says that it has seen an internal Pentagon document which confirms that US military advisers helped to train Rwandan officers in combat command techniques. Previously, the US has admitted only that its advisers were training Rwandans in mine removal and concepts of military justice.

The leaked document denies that serving US military personnel were involved with the Rwandan army inside Zaire, alongside the ultimately successful rebel forces of Laurent Kabila. But Le Monde says French intelligence sources believe that up to 60 former US special servicemen did serve on the front line of the civil war. They were, ostensibly, recruited as mercenaries by private companies in the US, but this could have been a "deniable" front for US government policy.

Paris has been deeply suspicious about US intentions in the region since the bloody Rwandan civil war of 1994 removed a genocidal pro-French Hutu regime in Kigali and replaced it with an Anglophone, pro-American Tutsi regime. French officials have suggested that the Rwandan-supported rebellion against President Mobutu Sese Seko was materially supported by Washington. There have been unproven counter-suggestions that French mercenaries served with Mobutu's forces.

The document seen by Le Monde was prepared for a Congressional committee investigating claims by a US group, Physicians for Human Rights, of direct US involvement in the Zairean conflict. The paper denies this allegation. But it admits that 200 US troops trained Rwandans in "tactical skills" and "basic rifle marksmanship".