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Rwanda says demobilised troops may be in DR Congo

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By Jack Kimball

KIGALI, Nov 11 (Reuters) - A top aide to Rwanda's President Paul Kagame said on Tuesday it was possible demobilised Rwandan soldiers were fighting in eastern Congo, but it was the responsibility of Congo's government to catch them.

Fighting in Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province has fuelled fears of a re-run of Africa's first "World War" in 1998-2003, which sucked in the armies of six nations and killed millions of people, mainly through hunger and disease.

Rwanda denies Congolese accusations it is supporting rebel commander Laurent Nkunda.

But Joseph Mutaboba, Kagame's Great Lakes special envoy, told Reuters it was a "possibility" some demobilised Rwandan troops were fighting in Congo, although he had no confirmation.

"To say it and repeat it is one thing, but to prove it, is another," Mutaboba said in an interview.

"If there are any demobilised Rwandan soldiers who are in Congo then it becomes the responsibility, and the sole responsibility, of Congo to say this soldier has been caught crossing the border illegally ... and tell us."

Kigali has twice invaded neighbouring Congo, fighting Hutu rebels (FDLR) who fled Rwanda after taking part in the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Nkunda's Tutsi rebels are battling Congolese government forces (FARDC), the FDLR and other armed groups.

Mutaboba said Rwandan forces would respond firmly if the fighting spilled into its territory.

"The FARDC are with the FDLR, so if the FARDC attacks us we will have to respond with very serious fire," he said.

"If we have to fight, we'll fight them there (in Congo)," he said. "The military option is the last and worst scenario."

Two weeks ago, Rwanda accused Congo of shelling across the border. "If that shelling happens again ... we shell back and we shell back seriously," Mutaboba said.

Aid agencies in North Kivu are struggling to help more than 200,000 refugees uprooted by the fighting.

Analysts say that to avert a wider conflict, global and regional powers need to exert firm pressure on Congo and Rwanda to demobilise the various armed groups.

Mutaboba said MONUC, the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, and the Congolese government were not serious about removing the Rwandan Hutu rebels from the east.

"We want to have this issue solved, but the partners we had ... do not seem to have been generally interested in getting the FDLR disarmed and returned home," he said.

"They have the key to the solution, but they don't want to turn that key in the right direction."

(Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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