Over 40 Congolese rebels killed in air raid

February 13th, 2009 - 11:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Goma, Feb 13 (DPA) More than 40 Hutu rebels have been killed in an air raid in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rwandan and Congolese military said Friday.
The armies, which launched a joint operation against the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in late January, said the raid targeted a meeting of the group’s leaders in the Masisi region.

Other top FDLR commanders have reportedly surrendered.

The rebel group was formed after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when Rwandan Hutus accused of taking part in the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus fled to DR Congo.

The group has been a major de-stabilising force in the DR Congo, where the 1998-2003 war ultimately caused the deaths of over 5 million people.

Since the military action began, the FDLR has been accused of carrying out attacks on the local population in retaliation.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Friday that the FDLR has slaughtered over 100 civilians in the last few weeks.

“The FDLR have a very ugly past, but we haven’t seen this level of violence in years,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in the Africa division at HRW.

Witnesses told HRW that in one town the FDLR had seized civilians with the intention of using them as human shield against an attack by the joint forces.

Some civilians died in the crossfire while others were hacked to death, HRW said.

The joint offensive came as something of a surprise, particularly as Rwanda’s first act on Congolese soil was to arrest its long-term ally Laurent Nkunda, the leader of Tutsi rebel group the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

A CNDP offensive late last year routed the Congolese army and sent more than 250,000 people fleeing.

The CNDP has justified its struggle by saying it is protecting the Tutsi minority from the FDLR.

Some analysts feel that the arrest of Nkunda, who fought with Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) during the genocide, was part of the deal that allowed Rwandan troops to enter DR Congo.

The Rwandan government has been keen to put an end to the FDLR and has previously launched operations against the group.

Congolese President Joesph Kabila has said the Rwandan troops have until the end of February to wrap up their operation.

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