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Rwanda, Uganda Face Richer Rivals

August 23, 1998

GOMA, Congo (AP) _ Threats by Rwanda and Uganda to intervene openly in the Congo rebellion are the clearest indication yet of the two neighboring countries’ determination to protect their own long-term interests.

The two countries have so far apparently only provided logistical and technical support for Congolese rebels fighting to oust President Laurent Kabila.

But when troops from Zimbabwe and Angola came to Kabila’s aid, it may have pushed impoverished Rwanda and Uganda toward a risky adventure against wealthier rivals. Both now warn they will step into the growing regional conflict if their interests are threatened.

Rwanda’s 35,000-strong army, already overstretched fighting Hutu rebels at home, is hardly in a position to match the larger, better trained and equipped Angolans. Uganda, too, is busy fighting rebels on at least two fronts.

If drawn into the war, the two nations may only be able to focus their troops in eastern Congo _ along their borders.

The area was used as a staging ground for attacks by Hutu soldiers after Rwanda’s Tutsi-led rebels won power in July 1994 and ousted the extremist Hutu government, which had slaughtered more than half a million minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.

In 1996, the Rwandan Tutsi government decided to back Kabila’s rebels, attack the Hutu fighters across the border, force the return of civilian Hutu refugees and put a cooperative Congolese leader in power.

Uganda helped out, and Kabila was installed in power after the rebels ousted longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997.

At first, Kabila’s soldiers cooperated with Ugandan and Rwandan troops in flushing out rebels.

But cooperation stalled as Kabila moved away from his allies, and the border region once again became dangerously unstable.

In July, Kabila ordered remaining Rwandan troops and military instructors out of the country. The revolt by Congolese troops against Kabila began Aug. 2.

Although Rwanda denies any involvement there are increasing signs of its role in the crisis.

The Rwandan government has provided at least two Boeing 727s to help deploy rebel troops, witnesses and aviation sources said.

Rwandan intelligence officers had directed flights transporting troops and equipment from Goma to Kitona air base near the Atlantic Ocean. Kitona fell to Kabila’s Angolan allies on Sunday.

``We are cooperating ... but Rwandans are not dictating to us,″ rebel chief commander Jean-Pierre Ondekane said last week.

Ugandans, too, deny involvement. But residents in Bunia, 225 miles north of Goma, reported seeing Ugandan tanks and troops cross into Congo.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Kigali-based correspondent Hrvoje Hranjski reports on Rwanda, Uganda and eastern Congo for The Associated Press.

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