Anne Penketh: Why Rwanda's leader is the power broker in this conflict

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The Independent Online

The unprecedented joint visit to Rwanda by David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, the foreign ministers of Britain and France, was a diplomatic recognition of President Paul Kagame's crucial role in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo from the two countries which have supported rival sides in the region's long proxy war.

The UK and US-backed Rwandan President has been the power broker there since the aftermath of the 1994 genocide brought his Tutsi rebel faction to power. After the three-month killing spree in which almost one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus perished, the notorious Hutu militias, known as the Interahamwe, and former Rwandan army troops crossed into eastern Congo (then Zaire), where they terrorised hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees who had fled the genocide.

Mr Kagame – who broke off relations with France in 2006 over a French inquiry related to the genocide – has vowed to root out the Hutu militias from eastern Congo ever since. But Rwanda has also been accused of having a business reason for keeping a foothold in the east, where illegal mining has plundered Congo's resources.

Rwandan forces first invaded Congo in 1996 to clean out the extremist Hutu militias from refugee camps. Mr Kagame supported the Tutsi rebel leader who emerged from the jungle, Laurent Kabila, in his successful drive to topple the Zairean dictator Mobutu sese Seko. But the Rwandan strongman subsequently turned on his protégé for failing to expel the Hutu militias.

Rwandan troops finally pulled out in 2002 under peace accords that ended a war that dragged in five other countries, lured by Congo's vast mineral wealth. But in 2004, Mr Kagame threatened to invade again unless the Hutu militias stopped attacking Rwanda from across the border, and was scornful of the UN's failure to disarm them.

Now, he is denying accusations that he is providing military support to the latest Tutsi rebel – a former Congolese army general, Laurent Nkunda – in his assault on the main city in eastern Congo. After Mr Kagame met on Friday with the American assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi Fraser, she was quoted as saying that Rwanda and Congo needed to address "the fundamentals". For Rwanda, that means dealing once and for all with the "génocidaires."