July 27, 2009 / 5:07 PM / 9 years ago

Rwanda-DRC ready for more joint operations - Kagame

* Relations with Kinshasa improving

* Kagame refuses to negotiate with rebels

By Sophie Tholstrup

KIGALI, July 27 (Reuters) - Rwanda is prepared to take part in further joint military operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo to root out rebels operating there, President Paul Kagame said on Monday.

Congolese and Rwandan soldiers launched a joint operation in January against Hutu militia known as FDLR who took part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, and who are also seen as a root cause of 15 years of festering conflict in eastern Congo.

Rwanda pulled out a month later and the rebels retook ground they lost during the offensive.

"We continue to be ready to work on solutions ... including military operations... at short notice," Kagame said.

Anti-FDLR operations began after a deal between Congo and Rwanda, but residents say they have not had much impact on the group’s estimated 6,000-strong fighting force.

They marked a dramatic shift in regional politics, with Rwanda helping end a Congolese rebellion Kigali had been previously accused of backing in exchange for being allowed to send its army to fight the Rwandan rebels.

"The relationship between Rwanda and DRC has been improving very fast. I’d say it’s now at a good level. We want not only to keep it there, but also to advance it ... for the good of the people of the whole region," Kagame told a news conference.

However, tensions still remain between the two countries over the whereabouts of warlord Laurent Nkunda, head of the CNDP Tutsi militia operating in the eastern Congo, who Rwanda arrested in January.

"Laurent Nkunda is not the problem in DRC. He’s a very small part of the problem. We need to look beyond him to the bigger issues," Kagame said.

Some analysts have recommended that the two governments negotiate with FDLR members not wanted for genocide.

"They say, ‘talk to the FDLR’, but which one? Moderates? If they were moderates they would have returned home," Kagame said.

The United Nations peacekeeping force MONUC says more than 1,200 former combatants have returned to Rwanda this year alone thanks to the joint military operations between Rwanda and Congo and non-military efforts.

Rwanda first invaded Congo in 1996 to hunt down FDLR rebels and Kigali’s army ended up toppling the government in Kinshasa and much of the fighting in Congo degenerated into a scrap over mines. (Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; editing by Myra MacDonald)

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