Sunday, April 27, 2008

Democratic Republic of Congo Army Clashes With Former Militia Allies

Congo: army, former militia allies fight

By Eddy Isango
Associated Press Writer
April 27, 2008

KINSHASA, Congo—Congo troops clashed Friday with Rwandan Hutu militias with whom they were formerly allied, culminating a week of violence that has forced more than 12,000 people from their homes and prompted the U.N. refugee agency to suspend operations.

The Rwandan Hutu militiamen have been loosely tied to Congo's army for years, so the clashes appeared to mark a turnaround in government policy. Neighboring Rwanda has been calling for the government to confront the militias for years.

Officials say the militias are led by commanders who perpetrated Rwanda's 1994 genocide of more than half a million people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Friday's fighting pitted the army against Rwandan Hutu militiamen and some others in the villages of Kinyandoni and Ngwenda, about 50 miles northeast of the regional capital, Goma, said Caroline Draveny, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

She said fighting also erupted a few dozen miles to the west, in the village of Irangi, where the Rwandan militia clashed with gunmen loyal to a warlord.

There was no word of casualties linked to the fighting, but officials said more than 12,000 people were forced to flee.

Yonekawa Masako of the U.N. refugee agency said 11,000 people had fled to the village of Bulindi after the clashes in Irangi. Masako added that at least 1,700 people had fled Kinyandoni and Ngwenda, taking refuge in two churches and a makeshift camp.

Masako said the refugee agency suspended operations in the area Friday because of the insecurity. The agency provides displaced families with key items to survive.

A coalition of more than 60 human rights groups warned this week that there has been little progress toward peace in eastern Congo four months since the signing of a cease-fire, and called for an international human rights envoy to oversee implementation.

Congo emerged in late 2002 from back-to-back wars that split the Europe-sized nation into rival fiefdoms controlled by different factions. Despite a peace deal and a government of national unity, fighting has broken out sporadically in the east.

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