KIGALI, Rwanda – Rwanda's president said Tuesday in a deliberately vague speech he already may have sent troops into neighboring Congo to disarm Hutu rebels, a day after credible reports that thousands of Rwandan forces had crossed the border.
President Paul Kagame (search), whose government repeatedly has accused the Hutus of launching attacks from Congo, threatened to take matters into his own hands if Congo and the United Nations do not rein in the rebels, responsible for the 1994 genocide of a half-million minority Tutsis (search) and moderate Hutus (search) in Rwanda.
"Anytime the United Nations ignores or fails to deal with the problem of [the rebels], we shall do it ourselves, and this will not take long, or, we might even be doing it now," Kagame said.
There have been reports for months that small units of Rwandan special forces regularly cross into Congo to harass and spy on the 8,000-10,000 Hutu rebels believed to be in eastern Congo.
But a Western diplomat told The Associated Press on Monday that thousands of Rwandans have crossed this time and Congolese residents have reported seeing troops crossing since Friday.
Other Western diplomats in Congo's capital however said they had no confirmation that Rwandan troops had entered Congo. U.N. officials said Tuesday they were investigating the growing claims and said it was possible a limited number of Rwandan troops may have infiltrated Congo.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila (search) told international diplomats he would send reinforcements toward the border with Rwanda to "assure the security of the civilian population and to contain the Rwandan aggression," presidential spokesman Kudura Kasango said Monday.
Whether Rwanda has sent an invasion force, a small special forces team or is just trying to prod the United Nations into taking tougher action to disarm the rebels is unclear. Kagame and his aides so far have been vague.
Rwanda has invaded Congo twice since 1996 on the grounds of flushing out the Hutu extremists.
Rwanda's second Congo invasion, in 1998, touched off a five-year war that drew in the armies of four other nations and split resource-rich Congo. An estimated 3.2 million people died, most through famine and disease.
Congolese are quick to point out that despite those two invasions, Rwandan forces never succeeded in disarming the rebels and insist Rwanda is only after Congo's mineral wealth.
Kagame dismissed the allegations.
"We don't want any of Congo's minerals because we are not thieves. What we want is fighting those negative forces," Kagame said.
Rwandan special envoy to the Great Lakes region Richard Sezibera said he hoped the troop movement would help defeat the Rwandan rebels in Congo.
"Let's wait and see what comes out of the deployment. We have time and again asked them to disarm these negative forces," Sezibera said.
The Rwandans are not alone in feeling that the U.N.'s voluntary disarmament program is not working and that force may be needed against the Hutu rebels.
"The Interahamwe (search) and the other Rwandan fighters mock [the United Nations] and us," Congolese Brig. Gen. Mbuza Mabe told U.N. radio in eastern Congo Monday. "Now it's time to go to Phase Two of the operation, consistent with forced disarmament and repatriation."
The United Nations has 11,000 troops in Congo, overseeing peace and power-sharing deals that mandated the withdrawal of foreign armies. The force is building to 16,000 as the United Nations steps up disarmament efforts of Rwandan Hutu rebels and other militias in the east.