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Kagame says no to negotiations with Congo-based rebels

KIGALI, 30 May 2005 (IRIN) - Rwandan President Paul Kagame said on Friday that his government welcomes a recent conciliatory declaration by a Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

However, he said his government would not hold talks with the group as a precondition for their disarmament and repatriation.

"All we will do is open the gates [border] for them," Kagame said. "Those who wish to come are welcome. Those who wish to stay, it is their choice. And those who wish to continue fighting can do so."

According to various sources, about 10,000 combatants in the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) are based in eastern DRC. Some of them are accused of taking part in the killing of an estimated 937,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Their presence in the DRC has fuelled instability in the region, and was used to justify Rwanda's invasions in 1996 and 1998. Kagame has continued to threaten to send Rwandan forces into the DRC if the rebels are not disarmed.

In January, the African Union announced that it would help in efforts to disarm the Rwandan rebels.

The announcement was "politically and psychologically important," Jim Terrie, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN earlier this month. He said it had helped the rebels "recognize their isolation".

The leader of FDLR, Ignace Murwanashyaka, announced on 31 March that the group would end military operations against Rwanda and voluntarily return home.

However, various analysts are concerned with the wording of Murwanashyaka's declaration, and worry he may try to set conditions for the return of his followers.

One FDLR official is reported to have linked the return of the Hutu rebels to opening up the political process in Rwanda and to the government recognising that during the 1994 genocide Hutus also were killed on a massive scale.

While acknowledging that the rebels do have some legitimate concerns about what will happen to them when they return to Rwanda, Terrie said that the process wool fail if the FDLR makes such political conditions.

In an ICG policy report issued on 12 May, Terrie recommended that the Rwandan government hold "non-political, technical discussions with FDLR leaders about return modalities," as well as provide "monetary and other incentives for return, including an offer to integrate eligible commanders into its army".

The report also recommended that the government identify "which commanders are, and which are not, sought by Rwandan courts for crimes of genocide and accept an option of third-country asylum for those not sought for serious crimes by its own courts or the [UN] International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda in Arusha".

Kagame's remarks on Friday suggest that the chances of his government offering such initiatives are slim.

"We appreciate the [FDLR] statement to disarm and come back home," Kagame said, but "we will not have any discussions on modalities of repatriation".

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