Congo probes alleged Rwandan support for rebels

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo Mon May 28, 2012 5:02pm EDT

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo are investigating allegations that neighboring Rwanda is recruiting and training fighters in support of a new armed movement in its troubled eastern borderlands, a government spokesman said on Monday.

The British Broadcasting Corporation, citing a confidential United Nations document, reported earlier on Monday that among the defectors from the newly formed militia were at least 11 Rwandan nationals who claimed to have been recruited in Rwanda.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo dismissed the allegations as "categorically false and dangerous".

Lambert Mende, Congo's communications minister, told Reuters that his government had received similar information from fighters captured by the army.

"All those who have been arrested after the last fighting are telling the same story," he said, adding that an inquiry was under way and Congo government itself was not accusing Rwanda of supporting the rebels.

"Rwanda is denying it, and we don't have any reason to doubt what they're saying at this time," he said.

The two Great Lakes neighbors have a troubled history. Kigali in the past has accused Kinshasa of harboring Rwandan Hutu fighters who fled across the border after carrying out a 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

Rwanda in turn has backed a succession of rebellions in eastern Congo over more than a decade of violence that has claimed the lives of over 5 million people.

In 2008, U.N. investigators accused Rwanda of arming the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), led by renegade Congolese Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda.

However, a 2009 peace deal that saw Nkunda arrested by Rwanda and his troops integrated into the army appeared to usher in a new era of cooperation between the erstwhile enemies.

"Rwanda's national interest is served by containing conflict and building deeper bonds of peace with our neighbors," Mushikiwabo said on Monday.

Meanwhile, Hiroute Guebre-Selassie, who heads the office of Congo's peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, in Goma, confirmed the contents of the leaked report in an interview that aired on the BBC on Monday.

"They say they were recruited in a village called Mundede, that they were given training in weapon handling, and that they were sent to DRC to join the M23," she said.

The fighting in recent weeks has forced some 100,000 people to flee their homes according to the United Nations, including thousands into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

(Editing by Joe Bavier and Mark Heinrich)

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