U.N. presses Rwanda on rapprochement with Congo

KIGALI, May 17 (Reuters ) The U.N. Security Council pressed Rwanda on Sunday to stand by a rapprochement with neighbouring Congo and won assurances from President Paul Kagame he would pursue a course seen as key to ending violence in eastern Congo.

Envoys from the 15 council member states flew into the small east African nation to bolster a drive by the United Nations to help resolve years of conflict in the region and enable its peackeeping force in Congo, the world's largest, ultimately to leave.

They will continue on Monday to Goma, in eastern Democratic Rebublic of the Congo, and the capital, Kinshasa.

"We strongly encouraged the president to continue on that path (of better relations) as we will with (Congolese) President (Joseph) Kabila when we meet him," Britain's U.N. ambassador John Sawers, leading the delegation, told reporters.

"We've certainly come away reassured about the seriousness of it...but there's more work to be done."

Both Kagame and his foreign minister, Rosemary Museminoli, told reporters they were making a priority of ties with Kinshasa.

"We keep working with the DRC to examine what tomorrow we can work on together and how we can do things differently," Kagame said.

Rivalries between the two neighbours, which back different militias in the mineral-rich eastern Congo, long frustrated efforts to bring peace following a 1998-2003 war thought to have led to the death of more than five million people.

But policy changes led Rwanda and Congo to collaborate earlier this year against the leading militias, although reprisals by the militias against civilians have brought further carnage.

Kagame played down the problem of rebel generall Laurent Nkunda, ex-leader of the Tutsi-dominated National Congress for the Defence of the People, who was arrested in January in Rwanda and is wanted in Congo.

"I do not understand Nkunda to be the cause of the problem." the Rwandan president said. "The problem is much bigger than one individual."


Rwnda says it has hesitated to extradite Nkunda to Congo because he could face the death penalty there, and that legal experts from the two countries are examining the problem.

The Security Council delegation also flew by helicopter to visit a rehabilitation camp for former fighters of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) who recently returned to Rwanda from Congo.

The FDLR is linked with Hutu militants who carried out Rwanda's 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

In a carefully stage-managed visit to a corrogated metal hall, in a verdant valley northeast of Kigali, the envoys watched more than 500 men clap and sing. One ex-fighter read a prepared statement in English that hailed Rwandan government polcies and declared: "Genocide -- never again in our country."

Another former guerrilla who gave his name as Jean-Paul, 33, told the diplomats: "Even those exposed as participants in the genocide have been welcomed back."

The envoys also visited Kigali's genocide memorial. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters: "What it reminds me of is less the past than the present and what more we could be doing in the present circumstances." (Writing by Patrick Worsnip; editing by Ralph Boulton)