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U.N. Addresses Congo Conflict by Helping Hutus Return to Rwanda

In towns like Nyabiondo, home to many Rwandan Hutu refugees, FDLR rebels are entrenched and difficult to disarm. The Rwandan government calls them a genocidal organization, but FDLR leaders say their main goal is political negotiations.

"There is no peace because of the Rwandans who came here," said Christine Kulu, who was selling peanuts along the muddy roadside. "We want them to go back."

One recent Saturday, Buraka walked through town to the local market, making himself available to militiamen who come there every week to sell cellphone scratch cards and sacks of beans and bananas, and who are sometimes ready to desert.

"That guy selling meat there, he is FDLR" and wants to leave, he said, walking by a butcher shop, avoiding direct eye contact.

Not too far away, a few militia leaders were meeting on the second floor of a tiny hotel, where there was a TV, a DVD player and plenty of Cokes. Among them was Commander Soleil Sadiki, whose real name is Kanzeguhera, and who is on the list of militia leaders wanted by the Rwandan government.

"They always tell lies," he said. "The biggest lie of all is that they call us genocidaires," or genocide participants.

The group's spokesman, who uses the nom de guerre La Forge Fils Bazeye, described the militia as a misunderstood organization whose goal is the protection of refugees and their return. It also wants political negotiations with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has refused to deal with the FDLR as a group.

"Kagame just wants to monopolize power, and that's how the Tutsis are," he said. "Inside their heart, the Rwandan government knows that if the FDLR goes back, they will not have a pretext to come here and loot minerals. So that is the problem."

Bazeye and other militia leaders also say the Rwandan Tutsis have not been fully held to account for massacres carried out in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

The Rwandan army invaded eastern Congo in 1996 to dismantle massive Hutu refugee camps that had become a collective command center for leaders who carried out the genocide and were attempting to reorganize. Human rights groups have documented mass killings by Rwandan Tutsi soldiers during that time.

Bazeye said his 1-year-old daughter was killed clinging to her mother's back. "Was she a genocidaire?" he asked.

Other refugees here give similar accounts and question whether the Rwandan government really wants them back. "They take us all as genocidaires," said Juvenal Mapendo, a refugee and militia sympathizer who said his mother, father and two brothers were killed in the camps.

The U.N. official involved in the repatriation efforts said Rwanda often sends mixed signals to the Hutus living in eastern Congo. The return of 250,000 people, he noted, poses a serious land problem for the tiny, crowded nation.

"They say, 'Come,' and then politicians end their sentences with the word 'sanctions,' " the official said. "The perception among combatants is that Rwanda doesn't really want them to come back."

Uwonkunda said she is not exactly happy with the Rwandan government. She said her three brothers and three sisters were killed when Rwandan soldiers attacked the sprawling Mugunga refugee camp in 1996, and she blames Kagame for that.

Still, she said, she wants to go home, a place she last saw when she was 16.

"The Congolese in this village, they have been patient," Uwonkunda said. "But now when I see them, it's like they are sick of us. Because it's been a long time now."

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