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DRC: Army-rebel standoff stops returnees

KINSHASA, 19 February 2007 (IRIN) - Growing fears of a showdown between government troops and Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have halted the return of tens of thousands of displaced persons to their homes in western Rutshuru and northern Masisi territories, a humanitarian official said on Monday.

Andrew Zadel, a spokesman in the eastern town of Goma for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said 27,000 people had still not returned to their homes in these territories. Of these, he said, 8,180 were in Nyanzale village, 13,500 in Kichanga village and at least 5,000 in Kikuku villages.

He said the rebel Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR), some of whose members have been in eastern Congo since 1994 and stand accused of masterminding the genocide in their country, were moving into defensive positions.

"Both sides are reinforcing their positions," Zadel said.

Lt-Col Didier Rancher, the military spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), said on Thursday: "There is tension in these zones because of other newly integrated army units not far from the FDLR."

According to Rancher, there appears to be tension between the army and the Mai-Mai (former pro-government combatants during the country's five-year war) in the zone.

On Wednesday, there was a brief exchange of fire in Visthumbi village between the Mai-Mai and the army, displacing some of the population on the side of Lake Kivu, Rancher said.

Meanwhile, a former vice-president for defence and security in Congo's just ended transitional government, Azarias Ruberwa, said a mixed brigade of government troops was about to attack the Rwandan combatants in South Kivu Province.

A process to integrate two dissident army bridges, the 81st and 83rd loyal to renegade Gen Laurent Nkunda, with three loyal army brigades, has been ongoing since January. MONUC said on Wednesday the integration sought to overcome "the serious security problems" posed by Nkunda's forces in the troubled Kivu provinces since 2004.

Talks to resolve these problems were held in December 2006 in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, between Congolese army representatives and those of Nkunda. MONUC said the talks, brokered by the Rwandan government, were strongly backed by the central government in Kinshasa, the capital.

The agreement was to combine the 81st and 83rd brigades, and the rest of the combatants, with the army's 110th and 116th brigades, as well as the 1st Reserve brigade. MONUC said 4,500 to 5,000 of Nkunda's troops were to be combined with a similar number of army troops.

The new names for the five brigades after their integration process are Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo. They are to be deployed across North Kivu. So far, Alpha and Bravo brigades are being deployed, while Charlie Brigade has just finished its integration process.

MONUC's North Kivu Brigade, under its UN mandate, is providing support to the integration process by helping the army establish peace and security in the province, according to Maj Ajay Dalal, the MONUC North Kivu Brigade spokesman.

Rancher indicated that the army integration had encouraged the spontaneous return of nearly 17,000 people last week to the villages of Rutshuru Territory, North Kivu.




Copyright © IRIN 2007
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