GREAT LAKES - Foreign Minister Dr Charles Murigande said yesterday that Rwandan troops were not fighting alongside General Laurent Nkunda’s soldiers. He however warned that the government was ready to defend the country’s sovereignty should the ongoing fighting in eastern DRC spill over to Rwanda.
The fighting pits Gen. Nkunda’s troops and Congolese government forces, who are reportedly backed by FDLR, a group of Rwandan militias responsible for the 1994 Genocide.
“What I can tell you is that whoever thinks of bringing the war to our territory is ill-advised,” Murigande told journalists yesterday hours after returning from a three-day state visit to Kinshasa.
Congolese troops are using helicopter gunships to support their ground troops in the eastern DRC against Nkunda. The Congolese general says that he is fighting to protect his Tutsi countrymen who are largely targeted by Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels.
Murigande said the Kinshasa government was not happy with Rwanda’s suggestion of ending the eastern conflict through peace talks.
“My visit was not good because Kishasa rejected the dialogue approach. They want to solve the matter militarily,” Murigande said.
He observed that United Nations said it was backing Congolese troops in their rejuvenated fight against Nkunda rebels.
The UN has some 17,000 peacekeepers in DR Congo - the largest such force in the world and has sent an extra 200 troops to the region after the latest fighting.
Nkunda yesterday told BBC that he had called on the government to return to a peace process, after intense fighting.
By press time, fighting was continuing in two regions of North Kivu Province, including a park inhabited by the endangered mountain gorillas. “Rwanda has no side in this conflict. Let them fight until the weak side is defeated,” Murigande said.
Murigande said Kinshasa promised to increase its operations against the FDLR.
He pointed out that Rwanda’s concern was only that FDLR could take the advantage of the chaotic situation and consolidate its strength.
On Tuesday, Nkunda’s spokesman, Rene Munyarugerero, said their forces had captured about twenty rebels of FDLR during clashes in Masisi.
Speaking on telephone from the rebels’ bases in eastern DRC, Munyarugerero said rebels were captured while fighting alongside Congolese government forces in Mushaki, Ngugu and Sake.
Nkunda accuses Kinshasa of forming an alliance with the FDLR rebels.
He claimed some of the captured FDLR officers include Col. Smith Gihanga and Col. Mugabo.
Murigande reiterated Rwanda’s commitment to mediate between Congo and Nkunda, but added both slides must be willing to talk peace it that avenue was to succeed.
He repeated that the ex FAR/ Interahamwe (FDLR) were party of “the root causes of much of the insecurity and instability” in the region but Rwanda still hoped that Kinshasa would rout the rebels.
Early in the year Kigali brokered a deal between Congolese government and Nkunda which later saw the mixing of some brigades from the government army with Nkunda’s fighters.