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UN troops sweep area near park to clear armed groups

KINSHASA, 5 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - UN troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo launched what commanders codenamed Operation Falcon Sweep on Monday to drive all armed groups from a locale in the territories of Walungu and Kabare, close to a national park in South Kivu Province, a UN military spokesman said.

"The objective of Falcon Sweep is to prepare for the deployment of permanent UN troops to Ninja. It will last as long as there are armed groups in the area," Lt Col Thierry Provendier, the spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), said on Tuesday in Kinshasa, the nation's capital.

He said the operation in the two territories near the Kahuzi-Biega National Park was being spearheaded by 70 Guatemalan UN troops specialised in night operations. They are being supported by units of the UN South Kivu Brigade and 12 Congolese regular army troops. Provendier said the operation was primarily dissuasive but that the UN-led force would "neutralise" any armed group resisting.

Local Mayi-Mayi militiamen, the Rwandan Hutu rebel groups the Forces democratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) and the Rasta operate in the area and have been freauently plundering, raping and killings civilians.

The FDLR and Rasta are among the 8,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels who MONUC says fled their country after the 1994 genocide in which at least 947,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu died, according to Rwandan government statistics. Many of the senior rebel leaders have been accused of planning and executing the genocide.

From Congo, the FDLR and Rasta have been attempting to raid their homeland, with the aim of overthrowing the government of President Paul Kagame. Unable to do so they have turned, more recently, on the Congolese population. However, last week, Congolese President Joseph Kabila ordered his army on 28 June to begin disarming all foreign rebel armed groups in the country.

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