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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 19:58 GMT
Rwanda accused of DR Congo offensive
MLC rebels
Fighting continues in DR Congo despite a 1999 ceasefire
France has accused Rwanda of launching a major offensive in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-David Levitte, told the UN Security Council that up to 10,000 Rwandan troops were involved in the fighting near the government-held town of Moliro.

On Thursday the Security Council demanded an end to all fighting in Congo, at the same time as the Congolese Government pulled out of talks on the country's future being held in the South African resort of Sun City.

On Friday the Rwandan army denied the French accusation. Rwanda and Congolese rebels accuse the Congolese Government of seeking a pretext for quitting the talks.

New mission

"We are not informed of fighting right now in Moliro. If it is the case we have nothing to do with it. Our troops are not there and we are not involved in any fighting," Rwandan army operations commander Colonel Karenzi Karake told the French news agency AFP.

This was in sharp contrast to the view of Mr Levitte who accused Rwanda of "a major violation of the ceasefire agreement".

DR Congo timeline
1998 - Uganda, Rwanda try to topple Laurent Kabila
1998 - Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia prop up Kabila
1999 - Ceasefire signed but violated repeatedly
2001 - Laurent Kabila assassinated, replaced by his son, Joseph
He was speaking during a debate in New York on the protection of civilians in time of war.

On Thursday, the Security Council asked Mr Levitte to lead a mission to the Great Lakes region of Africa in May, to "give new impetus to the peace process" in the DR Congo and in neighbouring Burundi.

The peace process has been derailed by the withdrawal of the Congolese Government, which said it had pulled out because the attacks by Rwandan troops and Congolese rebels made it impossible to negotiate.

Observers criticised

Mr Levitte also criticised the UN military observer mission in the DR Congo, Monuc, saying it was "unacceptable that Monuc is incapable of telling us what is happening in Moliro".

He said he hoped that Monuc observers would "immediately be sent to the area by helicopter to report on the situation on the ground".

He emphasised that unarmed UN observers, not troops, should go to Moliro and said "if there were any opposition by Rwanda it would make matters worse".

According to Mr Levitte at least 10,000 men are participating in the offensive, but he declined to reveal the source of the reports.

The BBC's Mike Dummett
"Heavy fighting is going on as we speak"
See also:

14 Mar 02 | Africa
Congo peace talks hit by walk-out
13 Jan 02 | Africa
Kabila seeks peace at SADC summit
20 Dec 01 | Africa
Death rate soars in DR Congo
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