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DR Congo, Rwanda accomplish 65% of joint military operation

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XINHUA - February 15, 2009

Congo soldiers in North Kivu

The joint forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Rwanda have accomplished 65 percent of the military operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels, dealing a heavy blow to the insurgency, according to the Congolese government.

Communication Minister Lambert Mende unveiled the achievements in the capital Kinshasa at a press conference, saying the government is totally satisfied with the joint military operation which has not caused any civilian casualties.

The operation, which was launched on Jan. 20, has led to the arrest of Edmond Garamba, spokesman for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda ( FDLR), which is linked to the 1994 massacre in Rwanda, Mende said, adding the captive has been handed over to Rwanda.

The government is equally satisfied with the result of 334 child soldiers brought out of the FDLR in the operation, the official told reporters.

He said fierce fighting erupted in the Masisi region of North Kivu province on Thursday, when the coalition launched air bombing, killing 40 FDLR combatants including four officers and injuring 17 rebels.

The raid was intended to end the FDLR menace to attack aircraft of the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo (MONUC) and civilian planes, the official said.

He expected the joint operation to fulfill 80 percent by the end of the month with the rest to be done by the Congolese army and MONUC.

"One cannot imagine a 100 percent success of this work against rebels who have been holed up nearly 15 years in DR Congo. But the essential is to break the backbone of this movement so that one can control the residue forces," declared the official.

The FDLR is a root cause of DR Congo's internal conflicts and extern tensions with Rwanda. Under an African plan to restore stability in the Great Lakes region, the two neighboring countries decided to join hand in December to uproot the long-standing trouble maker for both.

The Congolese government invited thousands of Rwandan troops to join the anti-FDLR operation in January, citing article 91 of the Constitution, in a turnaround from mutual hostilities which led tothe break of their diplomatic relations in the 1990s.

To the surprise of all, the joint operation set it first target at renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, who was arrested on Jan.22 in Rwanda after fleeing an attack by coalition forces.

The surprise attack removed the first and foremost threat to the Congolese government, which had been battered in months of advance by Nkunda's National Council for the Defense of the People(CNDP) in North Kivu.

But the progress on the ground falls short of overcoming lingering fears about the Rwandan military presence DR Congo. On Tuesday, most of the 500 Congolese lawmakers signed a petition to President Joseph Kabila, calling for an early withdrawal of Rwandan troops.

Kabila himself has demanded the pullback of foreign troops by the end of February with or without the operation targets fulfilled.

DR Congo witnessed the invasion of both Ugandan and Rwandan troops in the 1990s. The two countries recalled their troops from DR Congo under a peace deal in 2002.

Besides the military pullout, the war-torn central African country faces subtle diplomacy in another issue -- the treatment of Nkunda.

The Congelese government has twice requested the extradition of the man, accusing him of committing war crimes. Rwanda wants him to be treated politically rather than in the hands of jurists.

DR Congo, which won independence from Belgium in 1960, has suffered two civil wars since the 1990s. The 1998-2003 Congo war sucked in several countries in the Great Lakes region, including Angola, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda. More than 5 million people died in the bloodshed.

There are still an estimated 1 million refugees in North Kivu, including 250,000 displaced in the months-old flare-up between the government forces and the CNDP.


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