afrol.com, 28 February - The Rwandan army today started its troop pull out of Congo Kinshasa (DRC) town of Pweto, close to the Zambian border. Uganda will also start its pull out from Northern Congo. Rwandan and Ugandan leaders attribute their new acts of trust to the "positive attitude" of Joseph Kabila, the new Congolese president.
Rwanda armed forces commander Karake Kalenzi today told reporters in Pweto the Rwandans were "moving out in order to give peace a chance, but we are also ready to come back and fight for our allies if they come under threat." Rwanda thus became the first country deploying foreign troops in Congo to start a pull out. Rwanda and Uganda back different groups rebelling against the Kinshasa government, while Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia have troops deployed in the country in support of the DRC government.
Major Eugene Ruhetamacumu, the Rwandan Armed Forces chief political commissar, today told Reuters that Rwandan forces "have started pulling out of defensive positions around Pweto. This is the start of our commitment to the Lusaka [Peace] Process. By 8 a.m. [06:00 GMT] the bulk of our forces will have moved out. By 11 a.m. we expect all of our forces to have moved. We are doing this for peace, for reconciliation." 3,000 troops will be evacuated from Pweto during the day.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame last week informed the UN that his country's troops would be withdrawing 200 kilometres from Pweto in the direction of their own country. Pweto, a regional centre close to the Zambian border, was subject to heavy fights between Rwandan backed rebels and DRC backed troops only in December 2000. The fights produced close to 100,000 refugees. In October 2000, Rwandan troops had agreed to withdraw 200 kilometres from the front, but a DRC offensive broke the ceasefire and produced the battle of Pweto.
On the northern front of Congo Kinshasa, the Ugandan Armed Forces also will start their pull our today, leaving their allied rebels without direct support at the frontline. The Ugandan army will withdraw 1,500 troops from Buta, northeastern Congo, this week, according to a statement published in the Ugandan newspaper "New Vision". Ugandan brigadier Katumba Wamala said there were plans to withdraw two battalions from the Buta region. "Arrangements are being made to fly them home but we cannot give an exact date because the movement of troops is a military secret," he was quoted saying.
Both the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) last week welcomed Rwandan and Ugandan promises to pull back the troops. A deadline to start the withdrawal of all foreign troops within 15 March was agreed upon. The withdrawal is supposed to be completed by 15 May. The fast response by Rwandan and Ugandan troops, initiating the withdrawal more than two weeks ahead of the deadline, has therefore been an unexpected move and demonstration of goodwill. Troops allied to the Kinshasa government have so far not started their withdrawal.
The UN is to deploy 3,000 troops to monitor the withdrawals. A military observer team from the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) arrived Pweto on 25 February. The team was to monitor the Rwandan disengagement and prepare for the deployment of additional UN observers, according to UN spokesman Fred Eckhard.
The fast developments towards a peace settlement in war-ridden Congo Kinshasa were sparkled by the inauguration of Joseph Kabila as new president of the country in January, after his father had been assassinated. President Joseph Kabila, under strong influence of his peace seeking ally Angola, engaged on a new policy of communication, where he met with Rwandan President Kagame in Washington and accepted former President Ketumile Masire of Botswana as the neutral facilitator for the Inter-Congolese dialogue.
After having met both Kabila and Kagame earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a new peace plan to the UN Security Council, which was adopted last week. The plan called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Congo and for the disarmament, repatriation or resettlement of other armed groups.
An important turning point in the UN plan, to which both Rwanda and Congo Kinshasa agreed, was the disarmament of the Rwandan Interahamwe and ex-Forces armees rwandaises (ex-FAR), rebel groups that operate from the Congo and are related to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, killing close to a million Tutsis and oppositional Hutus. The Kinshasa support to these groups had been one of the key reasons for the Rwandan army to engage in the Congolese war.
Rwanda during the last months has emphasised increasingly on the disarmament and arrest of the Interahamwe and ex-FAR operating from Congo and was able to gain sympathy for its position. Last week, also Kofi Annan acknowledged that the issue of the Interhamwe was of "great concern". "Obviously if we are going to bring peace to that region we need to find ways of dealing with the Interhamwe," he said. The following agreement to disarm the Interahamwe and ex-FAR probably can be seen as the direct cause for the rapid Rwandan pull out, initiated today.
Patrick Mazimhaka, Special Envoy of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, this week stated that his country was satisfied with the UN plan and that the UN now was to deploy troops to monitor its implementation. The Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leonard Okitundu, on 26 February also told the UN radio in New York that his country was satisfied with the plan, especially with the fact that the military disengagement of foreign troops, which his government has demanded for a long time, finally was to be implemented.
Sources: Based on UN sources, Reuter, Rwanda govt. and afrol archives