KINSHASA, Congo -- United Nations peacekeepers deployed an additional brigade in eastern Congo amid reports that Rwanda was threatening to attack Rwandan rebels based in its huge neighbor, UN officials said yesterday.
The alleged threat jeopardizes the peace process in Congo, spokesman Fred Eckhard said at UN headquarters in New York.
"The mission's mandate includes preventing the [Democratic Republic of Congo] peace process from being derailed by spoilers from within and outside the DRC," Eckhard said, using the initials for the country's full name.
A spokeswoman for the UN in Congo, Patricia Tome, said yesterday that Rwanda had warned it will launch an attack "very soon" on Rwandan Hutu rebels taking refuge in east Congo.
UN special representative William Swing "received a call from a Rwandan official informing him there would be an attack very soon . . . by the Rwandan army on Congolese territory," Tome said.
Rwanda's minister of state for cooperation, Protais Mitali, denied that his country threatened to attack. "That's not true at all, I don't know where they got that," Mitali told The Associated Press.
In eastern Congo, some residents feared an attack could take place in the next 24 hours. Asked by a reporter in Dakar, Senegal, if an attack could happen today, Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame, said simply, "No."
"I know absolutely nothing of this," said a spokesman for Kagame, Alfred Ndahiro.
Henri Mova Sakanyi, a spokesman for Congo's government, urged the international community to help prevent any attack by Rwandan forces.
Rwanda has invaded Congo twice in recent years -- first in 1996 and again in 1998 -- to hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels. Many of those rebels had played a role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which extremists from the Hutu majority orchestrated the slaughter of more than 500,000 people, most of them from the Tutsi minority.
The UN peacekeepers deployed in eastern Congo were part of a 5,900-member addition to the peacekeeping force in the country, which until now numbered about 10,800 men.
Swing, who is in the eastern city of Bukavu on Congo's border with Rwanda, was in "diplomatic consultations with all parties in the region to avoid any escalation," Tome said.
Rwanda's 1998 invasion of Congo drew in the armies of a half-dozen African nations and left more than 3 million people dead, mostly civilians who died from famine and disease -- indirect effects of the fighting.
The war ended with peace deals in late 2002 that set the stage for a national unity government, which took office in mid-2003.
Sporadic violence has persisted in the country's volatile east, however, most of it blamed on militia groups, Rwandan rebels, and Congolese rebels now integrated into the vast country's army.
Tensions rose between Rwanda and Congo over the summer, when Rwanda accused Congo of massing troops for a cross-border attack and Congo accused Rwanda of supporting renegade army commanders who briefly captured Bukavu.
Rwanda fought both its wars in Congo through Congolese proxy rebel groups, including the Rwandan-backed former Rally for Congolese Democracy, which is now a political party with offices in Kinshasa.