KINSHASA, Congo — More than 1,500 Rwandan troops crossed the border into eastern Congo on Tuesday to join Congolese forces in an effort to oust Hutu rebels, officials said.
The joint military operations will last 10 to 15 days, said Lambert Mende, a Congolese government spokesman.
"We have officially asked the Rwandan army to participate in the disarmament operations of the Interahamwe (Hutu militia) which have begun," Mende said.
A Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there was concern that Hutu militiamen might retaliate against civilians.
In a rare move, Congo and Rwanda have agreed to step up efforts against the Rwandan Hutu militants who have long destabilized the region. Still, neither country has been able to control the Hutu rebels since they fled to Congo in 1994.
The Hutu fighters, who helped carry out the genocide in which more than 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, have remained in Congo untouched, heavily armed and in control of lucrative mines in remote hills and forests.
The militia has terrorized civilians, given Tutsi rebels a reason to fight and also are the reason why Rwanda invaded Congo previously in 1996 and 1998.
The U.N. mission in Congo said it was not associated with the operations but confirmed that the Rwandan forces had entered Congolese territory. Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich, a U.N. peacekeeping spokesman, said between 1,500 and 2,000 Rwandan soldiers had crossed the border.