The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has said it will no longer tolerate the presence on its national territory of elements of the Rwandan former army (ex-FAR) and Rwandan Hutu former militias (Interahamwe) who fled their country into neighbouring DRC after playing a major role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The announcement was made on Thursday by Mulegwa Zihindula, spokesman of DRC President Joseph Kabila, during a news conference in the capital, Kinshasa.
"The president of the republic can no longer accept that these people, who are not Congolese soldiers, remain in the Congo. They must be disarmed and returned to their country," he said.
Mulegwa was responding to a question regarding recent allegations by Rwandan authorities that the DRC's transitional national government was continuing to support the ex-FAR and Interahamwe.
"The ex-FAR and Interahamwe are operating freely, well armed and have never abandoned their intentions of destabilising Rwanda," Charles Muligande, the Rwandan foreign minister, told IRIN. "The situation needs urgent attention and the DRC government must show more commitment to resolving this problem. We are not happy at all. They are not doing anything, and these forces are moving towards our borders."
Mulegwa also said Kabila had expressed support for a regional conference on peace, democracy, development and security.
"The regional conference could help to resolve all these problems," Mulegwa said, calling on the international community to continue to support the process of disarmament and repatriation of foreign armed elements in the DRC.
For his part, Gen Mountaga Diallo, force commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, suggested during a news conference in Kinshasa on Wednesday that the voluntary nature of the programme for demobilisation, disarmament, repatriation, reinsertion and reintegration (DDRRR) of these foreign armed elements could come to an end.
"The offer [of voluntary repatriation] clearly does not interest these Rwandan combatants, who continue to hide. They do not want to accept the hand that has been extended to them," he said. "But when the moment comes that this programme [DDRRR] is ended - because MONUC will not remain in the Congo forever - it will be up to the Congolese government to decide their fate."
Since MONUC began the voluntary DDRRR programme, some two-and-a-half years ago, about 2,500 Rwandan ex-combatants and their families have been repatriated. MONUC estimates that about 14,000 Rwandan ex-combatants remain in the DRC.
Mulegwa would not say if the DRC government would resort to force to remove Rwandan ex-combatants from its national territory.
"We are certain that the unified and restructured Forces armees congolaises [national military] will soon be ready to play a role in the disarmament and repatriation of these Rwandan combatants," Mulegwa said.