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Congo's risky push to crush rebels

Rwanda's Army moved deeper into neighboring Congo Sunday as part of a surprise deal last week to root out Hutu rebels. But when will Rwanda's troops leave?

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A decade of war killed a staggering 5.4 million, according to UN figures, and nearly 200,000 Congolese remain displaced from their villages. The joint offensive by Congo's Army, Rwanda's Army, and Nkunda's former National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), now commanded by indicted war criminal Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, is likely to displace and even kill more civilians. Nine Rwandan militiamen were killed and one Congo army soldier was wounded over the weekend, said Congolese military spokesman Capt. Olivier Hamuli.

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For Rwanda, the current operation is a chance to finally root out the Rwandan Hutu militia known as the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which is composed mainly of people who sought refuge in the jungles of Congo after carrying out the mass murder of some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994.

Rwanda has said the joint operation will last only two weeks, but the members of the FDLR have settled in Congo and intermarried with locals since 1994. Moreover, the FDLR is expected to melt back into the jungle rather than fight against the better-organized Rwandan and Congolese forces, so rooting them out won't be easy. "Rwandans have been telling everybody who wants to listen ... that all they need is to be allowed back in [to Congo] to finish the job," says regional analyst Jason Stearns. "Now they have the chance, and if they don't do it, it's going to be very embarrassing for them."

Rwanda sees the roughly 6,500 fighters in the FDLR as an existential security threat. "They have continued their genocidal project on the other side of the border," Joseph Nsengimana, Rwanda's ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council in late December.

Not everyone believes Rwanda's motives are as transparent as its government is making them out to be, however. UN staff who work to disarm the FDLR say the group is hardly a major military threat. Gerard Prunier, a regional analyst and historian, says Rwanda is likely as motivated by the spoils of war as it is routing the spoilers. "No one is afraid of the Hutu attacking Rwanda. The FDLR is quite incapable of doing it," Mr. Prunier says. "It's about control of the mines…. Kill these guys, take the mines, sign a contract with [Congo's government], and share the loot. That is called peace. Peace comes like this: When you find mutual interests, you can work together."

Global Witness, an independent natural resource watchdog, says the group has no evidence suggesting Rwanda is after minerals. Still, spokesperson Mike Davis says history gives reason to suspect last week's troop movements may be motivated in part "by a desire to secure a larger slice of the cake."

Mr. Davis says the FDLR controls numerous mines and trade routes and is known to tax exports heavily. Rwanda is an active part of the international trade routes that make Congo one of the top exporters of tin in the world, he says.