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UN observers report encountering suspected

Rwandan troops in Congo

GOMA, Congo -- UN observers encountered what they believed to be about 100 Rwandan troops in eastern Congo, a UN official said yesterday, marking the first reported UN sightings since Rwanda threatened to send in its forces against Rwanda Hutu rebels sheltering here.

The suspected Rwandan forces withdrew toward Rwanda after Tuesday's encounter, said M'hand Ladjouzi, head of the UN mission at Goma. He spoke at a news conference in Goma, the largest city of the east.

A Rwandan diplomat denied Rwanda had invaded again, after a week of warnings that raised fears of a return to the six-nation war that devastated Congo, Africa's third-largest nation.

But the denial came as a Western envoy in Kinshasa, Congo's capital, said President Paul Kagame of Rwanda warned that Rwandan troops would carry out "surgical strikes" against rebels in a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

In the letter, which circulated among embassies in Congo yesterday, Kagame said military operations would last two weeks, according to the envoy, who spoke on condition of anonymity. UN officials in Kinshasa said they had no knowledge of the letter.

Congo, meanwhile, asked the UN Security Council to meet in emergency session to condemn Rwanda's threat and impose sanctions finding Kagame "personally responsible for the threat posted to the sovereignty of Congo and to the entire peace process in the region."

Kagame told Rwandan lawmakers on Tuesday that Rwanda would act against 8,000 to 10,000 Rwanda Hutu rebels based in east Congo, saying a five-month-old UN-led disarmament program had failed to neutralize the Rwandan Hutu rebel forces.

In Kinshasa, UN spokeswoman Patricia Tome said yesterday that Rwanda's threat "astonished" the UN mission in Congo, as it came at a time when authorities hoped to speed up the UN-led disarmament effort.

Adam Ereli, a spokesman for the US State Department, urged Rwanda and Congo "to solve their differences diplomatically and not militarily, through the exchange of gunfire, or the movement of troops in the area."

Until yesterday, UN officials said extensive sweeps by their more than 11,000-strong force in Congo had turned up no signs of Rwandan incursions since Rwanda's threat. Small-scale infiltrations by Rwanda since foreign armies formally withdrew from Congo's war "are not new. Of course, it's taking different dimensions now," Ladjouzi said. "But this gives the impression of an act of aggression," he said.

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