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World News

Rwanda considers pulling its peacekeepers from Darfur

KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwanda is considering pulling out all its troops from United Nations peacekeeping missions, starting with Darfur, after a leaked draft U.N. report said Rwandan troops may have committed genocide in Congo.

A soldier from Rwanda serving with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) stands during the funeral ceremony for seven peacekeepers in El Fasher July 12, 2008. REUTERS/Albany Associates/Stuart Price/Handout

The central African nation has four battalions, totaling 3,200 troops, deployed in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where the United Nations says conflict has killed as many as 300,000 people since 2003.

“Starting with Darfur, we have instructed our force commander to make contingency plans for immediate withdrawal as we wait to see how the U.N. treats this report,” Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told reporters.

The draft U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights report details some 600 serious crimes committed by various forces from a number of nations in Congo during the 1990s.

However, experts said Rwanda came off worst due to the genocide charge. Rwanda has rejected the allegations in the leaked report as “malicious” and “ridiculous.

“The U.N. can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a force serving as peace keepers and it is the same force you are accusing of genocide,” Mushikiwabo said.

U.N. peacekeepers were widely criticized for failing to prevent the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda that ended only after Tutsi-led fighters under current President Paul Kagame retook control of the country.

Rwanda’s army then invaded Congo, ostensibly to hunt down Hutu fighters who had taken part in the killings and fled into eastern Congo, then known as Zaire.

In the process, Rwandan forces helped sweep the Congolese AFDL rebels of Laurent Kabila to power in Congo. Both forces have been accused of a string of rights abuses against Hutu fighters and civilians across the country.

SHORTEST TIME POSSIBLE

A Rwandan army spokesman said the military had finalized a contingency withdrawal plan that it was prepared to enact should the U.N. publish its report as drafted.

“All logistical and personnel resources are in place. The pull out will take the shortest time possible,” Lieutenant Colonel Jill Rutaremara told reporters.

In Geneva, a U.N. spokesman denied media reports that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had come under pressure from U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to remove the word ‘genocide’ from the text of the report.

“I want to make it crystal clear, this is absolutely untrue. Up to this point the secretary-general has never put pressure on the high commissioner to alter the text,” Rupert Colville, Pillay’s spokesman, told a news briefing in Geneva.

“The report is finished,” he said.

There was no fixed date for the release of the report, which he hoped would be very soon, but a decision on timing was in the hands of New York, the UN’s headquarters, Colville said.

He said the leak had complicated matters and added Ban was consulting with the U.N. peacekeeping department and others.

Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Richard Lough; editing by Peter Graff

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