KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo -- Congo yesterday denied assertions by rival and neighbor Rwanda that it was massing troops for attack, and international diplomatic pressure built to avert what one African leader called "potentially catastrophic war" in central Africa.
Congo's defense minister said that his country was sending a total of 5,000 troops east to provinces bordering Rwanda, Congo's chief enemy in a devastating five-year central African war -- but insisted the deployment was to quell former rebels on Congo's soil, not to invade Rwanda.
"We are not threatening the integrity of our neighboring country. We trust our neighbor, and we want them to trust us," Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Ondekane said in Kinshasa, the capital.
"Congo is not going to attack Rwanda," Foreign Minister Antoine Ghonda said.
Yesterday's assurances followed three weeks of accusations, counteraccusations, and denials between Rwanda and Congo, foes in a 1998-2002 war fought in Congo.
That conflict embroiled the armies of at least four other African nations, split Africa's third-largest nation, and killed an estimated 3.3 million people, most through famine and disease.
The current crisis represents the greatest threat to the fledgling peace, and to a 14-month-old interim government assembled from loyalists, former rebels, and opposition figures after international pressure helped force out foreign armies and end fighting.
The east and northeast, de facto rebel states during the war, remain volatile.
The latest tensions erupted June 2, when two renegade former Rwanda-backed rebel commanders seized Bukavu, a Congolese city at the Rwandan border.
Government forces routed the renegade forces from Bukavu by June 9, but running battles with forces of renegade Colonel Jules Mutebutsi persist in and around nearby towns, the United Nations says. A UN helicopter gunship rocketed renegade fighters north of Bukavu after taking fire, a spokesman for the 10,800-member UN peace force in Congo said yesterday.