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Joint verification mechanism now operational

KINSHASA, 10 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Congolese and Rwandan military officers have activated a joint verification mechanism for the common border between the two countries, an administrator in Congo's eastern province of South Kivu said.

The deputy governor of South Kivu, Thomas Nziratimana, said the military officers met for the first time on 2 February in the provincial capital Bukavu, "to install the mechanism which allows the two neighbouring countries to verify and clear all accusations between them for the border area in the province".

He said the two-member teams were part of the joint verification mechanism for the common border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), along the main corridor between Cyangugu in Rwanda and Bukavu.

Officers of the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, attended the Bukavu meeting.

The government of Rwanda has in the past accused the Kinshasa government of arming Rwandan Hutu rebels, comprising fighters of the former Rwandan army (ex-FAR) and militiamen known as the "Interahamwe", and providing them with a base to launch attacks against Rwanda.

Members of the ex-FAR and the Interahamwe fled to eastern DRC after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which up to 937,000 people were killed, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

On the other hand, the Kinshasa government has accused Rwanda of having troops on Congolese soil and supporting Congolese rebels. Rwanda has denied this.

Members of the joint verification mechanism are expected to document all allegations and suspicions and to present them during their next meeting in Cyangugu at a date to be determined.

The border verification mechanism was established in September 2002, when Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart, Joseph Kabila, signed a peace treaty in Pretoria, South Africa.

Officially, Rwanda has pulled out its troops from the DRC, which at one time numbered 20,000. The Kinshasa government, with MONUC's support, was supposed to disarm and repatriate the Rwandan combatants on its territory.

Rwandan has twice invaded the DRC, in 1996 and in 1998, ostensibly to flush out the Hutu combatants based in eastern Congo.

MONUC, which acts as verification facilitator, has indicated that by February, 7,072 Rwandan fighters and their dependents had been repatriated on voluntary basis.

MONUC estimates that 8,000 Rwandan combatants remain in Congo. "Not all fighters are Interahamwe, the majority belong to the "Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which were created after the genocide" Maj Boyd Aitkem, the MONUC spokesperson in charge of demobilisation, disarmament, repatriation, reinsertion and reinstallation, said.

"We hope that the mechanism helps [to] ease the mutual accusations which carry the risk that they lead to a new war between the two countries," Nziratimana said.

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