U.N. urges Rwanda not to start military operations in Congo

UNITED NATIONS - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council urged Rwanda on Thursday to refrain from any military action in Congo after reports that as many as eight battalions are massing on the Rwandan side of the border.

The head of U.N. peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, warned the council at a closed-door briefing of the danger of increased tensions, saying there is a lot of stake for the Congo as well as the region, according to a diplomat at the session speaking on condition of anonymity.

Guehenno told members, citing unconfirmed reports from sources, that there are as many as six to eight battalions of Rwandan troops inside Congolese territory, Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali, the current council president, said.

But an official in the U.N. peacekeeping department later clarified that Guehenno said the Rwandan troops were on their side of the border, not inside Congo.

A battalion usually has between 500 and 1,000 troops, which would mean that between 3,000 and 8,000 troops have massed.

The U.N. mission in Congo, which has about 11,000 troops in the country, reported Wednesday that its observers encountered what they believed to be about 100 Rwandan troops in eastern Congo on Tuesday. The U.N. peacekeeping official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said their presence inside Congo has not been confirmed.

The U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs reported that an assessment team it sent to North Kivu province, which shares a border with Rwanda, said it encountered people "who claim to have witnessed fierce fighting in that area," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The people told the U.N. team that "villages have been looted and burned while children have been separated from their families," he said.


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