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U.N.'s Ban talks up Rwanda amid crisis over leak

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he had agreed with Rwanda’s president, who threatened to pull troops out of Sudan, on the importance of Rwanda continuing in peacekeeping operations.

A Rwandan soldier serving with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) stands guard next to a UN helicopter in the village of Dar es Salam, North Darfur in this handout picture taken July 9 and released on July 14, 2008. REUTERS/Albany Associates/Stuart Price/Handout

But Ban stopped short of saying that President Paul Kagame had withdrawn a threat to pull Rwandan troops out of a joint U.N./African Union peace force in Sudan’s Darfur region because of a controversy over alleged atrocities in neighboring Congo.

A draft U.N. report, leaked last month, said Rwandan soldiers may have committed genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s. Rwanda called the allegations “malicious” and “ridiculous” and threatened to withdraw its 3,500 troops from the 20,000-strong UNAMID force in Darfur.

Ban took the threat so seriously that he flew to the Rwandan capital Kigali earlier this week to talk to Kagame.

“President Kagame and I agreed that it is extremely important for Rwanda to continue its role in peacekeeping operations,” the U.N. chief told reporters in New York.

Ban said he and the Rwandan president had discussed the U.N. report in great detail. “I listened very carefully to their concerns. I fully understand and appreciate the depth of their feelings on this matter,” he said, going on to praise Rwanda’s peacekeeping role.

Ban said he had encouraged Kagame to take up a U.N. invitation to Rwanda and other parties cited in the report to submit comments by the end of the month. The final version of the report, whose publication has been delayed until October 1, will include any such comments.

In a further hint that the matter was not yet resolved, Ban said he would hold further talks with Kagame when the Rwandan president visits New York later this month for the annual General Assembly gathering of world leaders.

The U.N. report covers more than 600 serious crimes committed by various forces during the 1993-2003 period in which tens of thousands of people were killed, U.N. officials say.

The period saw the fall of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and a five-year conflict involving six foreign armies, including Rwanda’s Tutsi-led force.

After quashing the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda, Kigali’s army invaded Congo, ostensibly to hunt down Hutu fighters who had taken part in the killings and fled to eastern Congo. The draft report alleges that they may also have killed many Hutu civilians.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said earlier this week that “Rwanda will never accept that the Rwandan Defense Forces be accused of crimes they are not guilty of and that is the bottom line.”

Editing by Vicki Allen