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DR Congo army chief says UN mission unavoidable in anti-insurgency operation
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20:47, February 19, 2009

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The army chief of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) said on Wednesday that the UN peacekeeping mission in the war-torn central African country is unavoidable in the on-going military operations against insurgents.

Army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Didier Etumba, made the remarks during his meeting with Lt. Gen. Chikadiba Issac Obiakor, military councilor to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Obiakor has a mandate to coordinate the "Kimia" operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in the eastern province of North Kivu and the "Rudia" operation against the Ugandan rebel, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), in Orientale Province.

DR Congo launched the joint military operations with neighboring Uganda and Rwanda respectively in December and January.

The two senior military officials stressed the necessity of re-evaluating the operations in view of the involvement of the 17,000-strong UN mission known as MONUC.

Obiakor promised full MONUC support to the Congolese armed forces FARDC.

The joint military operations have dealt heavy blows to rebels with the dismantling of LRA's main camp in the Garamba national park in Orientale Province and the pursuing of FDLR remnants.

Although the operations sparked the backlash of civilian killings by both rebel groups, DR Congo claimed a major victory leading to an early pullout of Ugandan and Rwandan troops.

Communication Minister Lambert Mende announced last week that the Congolese-Rwandan troops had accomplished 65 percent of the military operation against FDLR, expecting the joint operation to fulfill 80 percent by the end of the month with the rest to be done by FARDC and MONUC.

Despite the victory on the ground, the presence of Ugandan and Rwandan troops in DR Congo is reminiscent of their invasion in the 1990s, when both countries launched cross-border attacks in pursuit of rebels.

More than half of Congolese lawmakers signed a petition recently to President Joseph Kabila, calling for an early withdrawal of Rwandan troops. Etumba himself seemed reserved about the decision to invite thousands of Rwandan troops to enter North Kivu, saying he had not been informed about the joint operation, according to a report broadcast on UN-funded Radio Okapi.

Kinshasa has repeatedly said it wants Uganda and Rwanda to recall troops by the end of the month.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gen. John Numbi, chief of staff for the joint operation, said in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, that Rwandan troops may return to their country as early as Feb. 25, when their Congolese counterparts will say "farewell" and escort them to the border.

The Congolese-Rwandan operation marks a thaw in their relations, which were severed in the 1990s amid an exchange of hostilities induced by rebel activities.

Before the launch of the operation, diplomats of both countries agreed to normalize ties, expecting the reopening of their embassies in each other's capital.


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