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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 12:38 GMT
Zambia kicks out Congo soldiers
Refugee boy in Kala refugee camp
Thousands of civilians have also fled fighting into Zambia
By Ishbel Matheson in Lusaka

The Zambian Government has confirmed that thousands of Congolese soldiers being held in special camps in Zambia have been sent back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The troops fled into Zambia following an upsurge of fighting with Rwandan-backed rebels in the border area in December.

Zambian Defence Minister Chitalu Sampa told the BBC that about 3,000 Congolese troops had gone and just over 100 soldiers remained.

These had not been repatriated, he said, because of some military issues connected with their status.

DR Congo soldiers
About 100 soldiers may be seeking asylum
The Zambian Government is being tight-lipped about the exact nature of the repatriation.

However, journalists who visited the town of Nchelenge in northern Zambia, where many of the soldiers have been held, said those remaining appeared to be army deserters.

They are now claiming asylum in Zambia.

One source in Nchelenge reportedly said the majority of troops had been taken back last week via the southern Congolese town of Lubumbashi.

Controversial

The presence of so many foreign soldiers on Zambian territory has been a real headache for the authorities here.

Area where soldiers fled to
However, this repatriation will be controversial.

The International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda wanted to have access to the detained soldiers.

There have been suspicions that some who sought sanctuary in Zambia were Interahamwe, the extremist Hutu force responsible for mass killings during the Rwandan genocide.

However, it appears that the troops have been sent back before investigators could begin their work.

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See also:

24 Dec 00 | Africa
Congo soldiers unwanted in Zambia
19 Dec 00 | Africa
Zambia on war alert
21 Dec 00 | Africa
Congo talks postponed
22 Dec 00 | Africa
Zambians hunt down DRC troops
15 Dec 00 | Africa
Rights group warns on DR Congo
08 Dec 00 | Africa
Zambia wants Zimbabwe troops out
06 Dec 00 | Africa
DR Congo deal signed
30 Jun 00 | Africa
Timeline: DR Congo conflict
30 Jun 00 | Africa
Congo's unhappy birthday
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