DAKAR, Senegal – U.N. Security Council diplomats appealed to Rwanda (search) for restraint Thursday after Rwandan President Paul Kagame (search) threatened to renew central Africa's deadliest conflict, claiming his country was coming under attack from militias in neighboring Congo.
"At the appropriate moment, we certainly will take measures," Kagame said in an interview with The Associated Press, calling a 5-month-old U.N.-led campaign to disarm the Rwandan Hutu militias (search) in Congo (search) a failure.
Asked when Rwanda would act, the Rwandan leader said, "It should have been yesterday."
The U.N. mission in Congo said later Thursday that no cross-border attacks from Congo had been verified, and Congo flatly denied Kagame's charge, saying its smaller, stronger neighbor was only looking for a pretext to send troops into Congo's resource-rich east again.
"There have never been any incursions," Congo government spokesman Henri Mova Sakanyi said in Kinshasa, the Congo capital.
Rwanda has invaded Congo twice since 1996 with the stated aim of hunting down Rwanda Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 genocide of more than a half-million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Rwanda's second invasion, in 1998, launched Africa into a war that drew in the armies of six nations, split Western Europe-sized Congo, and caused the deaths of an estimated 3.2 million people in Rwanda-controlled east Congo, primarily through famine and disease.
The United Nations accused all sides of prolonging the conflict as an excuse to continue plundering Congo's gold, diamonds and other resource wealth. International pressure finally forced out the foreign armies by 2002. Congo's government has joined in a power-sharing deal with rebels who had fought on the side of Rwanda and other enemy armies in the war.
While Kagame has always talked tough about the lingering presence in Congo of an estimated 8,000 Rwandan Hutu fighters still in east Congo, his warnings Thursday gained immediacy from a U.N. announcement the day before: A senior Rwandan official had advised U.N. Congo special adviser William Swing that Rwanda would attack bases of Rwandan Hutu rebels within Congo "very soon."
U.N. Security Council diplomats, winding down a central African mission launched to hold all concerned to peace deals, urged Rwanda to step back from the brink.
"The mission strongly urges the government of Rwanda to refrain from any action that would violate international law, undermine this region's fragile stability or jeopardize the transition process supported by the international community," it said in a statement from Burundi's capital, Bujumbura.
Kagame, speaking on a state visit to Senegal, said ineffectiveness of a now 5-month-old U.N.-led disarmament program in east Congo left his country with no choice but to act against Rwanda Hutu fighters itself.
He reacted harshly to the idea of giving the U.N.-led disarmament mission — less than halfway through its minimum-stated deadline — more time to act.
"You're telling me two months to have more deaths?" he asked. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Who is going to take care of this problem?" he demanded. "If the international community cannot, no one can except ourselves, because we simply cannot be punching bags for these criminals."
He rejected suggestions that he was asking the United Nations to do in a few weeks what Rwanda had been unable to in its five years in control of east Congo: disarm the last remaining Rwanda Hutu fighters.
Rwanda, while its forces were in Congo, was able to eliminate all but 25- to 30 percent of the Rwandan militias and bases, and block all cross-border attacks, Kagame said.
"Now, the force is being reconstituted by the absence of clear action against these forces," he said.
"The war is already on — otherwise what would the bases be doing in Congo?" the Rwandan leader asked.