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War continues to ravage Congo

By Rory Carroll

KALAMBAIRO (CONGO), NOV. 26. It was the message they hoped never to hear again, but when they did, the villagers of Kalambairo did not hesitate: they fled.

Warned that soldiers were on the way, the 1,900 inhabitants hid in wooded hills overlooking the village and endured the familiar spectacle of livestock being stolen, the water supply being cut and homes being burned.

They returned to sift through the rubble last week, after the soldiers had gone.

``All we have is what we are standing in,'' said Muchinga Ndeene (35), surrounded by his five children. ``Everything is gone. This happened to us in 1996 and 1998, but I thought we were supposed to be at peace now.''

Officially, the Democratic Republic of Congo's war, a brutal conflict which convulsed central Africa and cost more than 3 million lives, ended last year when foreign armies withdrew and rival Congolese groups formed a power-sharing government.

Fighting continues

But, as Kalambairo has discovered, sporadic fighting continues and there was the prospect of another full-scale war yesterday when Rwanda's President, Paul Kagame, threatened to invade his giant neighbour.

``The war is already on. At the appropriate moment, we certainly will take action,'' he told the Associated Press. Mr. Kagame said the continued presence in Congo of Rwandan Hutu rebels, including the men responsible for the 1994 genocide, left him no alternative.

Rwanda has invaded twice before, in 1996 and 1998, citing the same reason. The continued threat has prompted the United Nations to reinforce its 10,000-strong peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo. It is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to stop the former Belgian colony tumbling back into the abyss.

Despite numerous crises, Congo's Government has survived, and improved security has allowed aid to reach areas long starved of food and medicine. Elections are due next year. But swaths of the east grow more turbulent. Rwandan Hutu fighters still rove the forests, prompting Mr. Kagame's threats.

Rival factions

A separate but related problem is that rival Congolese factions have failed to integrate into a new national army. Instead, they are waging micro-conflicts which have displaced more than 150,000 people since June. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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