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UN mission in DR Congo says situation calm in North Kivu province

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XINHUA - February 8, 2009

Goma - Nord Kivu

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo says the situation in the troubled North Kivu province is calm despite the on-going joint military operation against Rwandan rebels.

The mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, has not involved in the attack on the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda ( FDLR) although it provides logistic support, a MONUC official said on Saturday.

"We have not assisted in the combats," Leila Zerrougui declared, adding that MONUC is only engaged in logistic support for the joint military operation of DR Congo and Rwanda.

She also disclosed that MONUC has repatriated 216 ex-combatants to Rwanda. "The figures are on the rise. It is about voluntary repatriation after MONUC launched a propaganda operation for all persons who want to return to Rwanda," she said.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Rwandan returnees have totaled 1,200 since the Congolese-Rwandan operation started last month.

MONUC reported a calm situation in the conflict-stricken province after some aid agencies expressed fear about refugees' plight. In DR Congo, some politicians also feel unease about the presence of Rwandan troops, which crossed the border twice in the 1990s to attack FDLR rebels.

The Congolese-Rwandan operation, however, was commended by the just ended African Union summit as a positive step to maintain stability in the Great Lakes region, where several countries were embroidered in the 1998-2003 Congo War.

FDLR is linked to the 1994 massacre in Rwanda in which 800, 000Tutsis and moderate Rwandans were killed. The perpetrators fled to DR Congo's North Kivu province afterwards to become a root cause of the central African country's internal conflicts and external tensions with Rwanda.

Spurred by African countries, the two neighboring countries decided in December to join hands to uproot FDLR in search for rapprochement.

Rwandan troops were invited to join the Congolese army last month in the anti-insurgency operation, which also led to the arrest of renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, whose battle hardened National Congress in Defense of the People had taken large swaths in North Kivu.

The joint operation is going on with a number of FDLR fighters reportedly killed in the jungle.

On Friday, FDLR commander Ignace Murwanashyaka made an appeal for negotiations on condition of security guarantees for his combatants.

In response, Congolese Communication Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga demanded the cornered rebel group lay down arms before talks that should be held in Rwanda rather than in DR Congo, and between FDLR and Kigali rather than with Kinshasa.

Murwanashyaka also said Rwandan Hutus wishing to stay in DR Congo must seek a refugee status "without arms."

With the joint operation progressing on the ground, more and more Rwandans in DR Congo want to return to their home country on the voluntary basis, Congolese officials say.

Some officials even believe the exodus of Rwandan Hutus could render FDLR baseless in North and South Kivu provinces, where the rebel group has been holed up since the 1994 massacre.

President Joseph Kabila expects an end to the joint operation in February, saying Rwandan troops will withdraw within the month.


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