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UN urges restraint after Rwanda threatens Congo

DAKAR, Senegal -- UN Security Council diplomats appealed to Rwanda for restraint yesterday after President Paul Kagame threatened to renew central Africa's deadliest conflict, saying his country was coming under attack from militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"At the appropriate moment, we certainly will take measures," Kagame said in an interview, calling a five-month-old, UN-led campaign to disarm the Rwandan Hutu militias in Congo a failure.

Asked when Rwanda would act, Kagame said, "It should have been yesterday."

The UN mission in Congo said later yesterday that no cross-border attacks from Congo had been verified, and Congo denied Kagame's charge, saying its smaller, stronger neighbor was looking merely for a pretext to send troops again into Congo's resource-rich east.

"There have never been any incursions," Congo government spokesman Henri Mova Sakanyi said in Kinshasa, the Congo capital.

Rwanda has invaded neighboring Congo twice since 1996 with the stated aim of hunting down Rwanda Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 genocide of more than a half-million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Rwanda's second invasion, in 1998, launched Africa into a war that drew in the armies of six nations, split Western Europe-sized Congo, and caused the deaths of an estimated 3.2 million people in Rwanda-controlled eastern Congo, primarily through famine and disease.

The UN accused all sides of prolonging the conflict as an excuse to continue plundering Congo's gold, diamonds, and other resource wealth.

International pressure finally forced out the foreign armies by 2002. Congo's government has joined in a power-sharing deal with rebels who had fought on the side of Rwanda and other enemy armies in the war.

While Kagame has always talked tough about the lingering presence of an estimated 8,000 Rwandan Hutu fighters in eastern Congo, his warnings yesterday gained immediacy because of a UN announcement the day before: A senior Rwandan official had advised UN Congo special adviser William Swing that Rwanda would attack bases of Rwandan Hutu rebels within Congo "very soon."

UN Security Council diplomats, winding down a central African mission launched to hold all concerned to peace deals, urged Rwanda to step back from the brink.

"The mission strongly urges the government of Rwanda to refrain from any action that would violate international law, undermine this region's fragile stability or jeopardize the transition process supported by the international community," it said in a statement from Burundi's capital, Bujumbura.

Kagame, during a state visit to Senegal, said ineffectiveness of a five-month- old disarmament program in eastern Congo left his country with no choice except to act against Rwanda Hutu fighters itself. He reacted harshly to the idea of giving the UN-led disarmament mission -- less than halfway through its minimum stated deadline -- more time to act.

"You're telling me two months to have more deaths?" he said. "I don't know what you're talking about. Who is going to take care of this problem? If the international community cannot, no one can except ourselves because we simply cannot be punching bags for these criminals."

He rejected suggestions that he was asking the United Nations to do in a few weeks what Rwanda had been unable to in its five years in control of eastern Congo: disarm the last remaining Rwanda Hutu fighters. While Rwanda's forces were in Congo, Rwanda was able to eliminate all but 25 to 30 percent of the Rwandan militias and bases, Kagame said.

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