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Rwandan rebel surrender lifts Congo peace prospects

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KIGALI, Rwanda (Reuters) -- The surprise surrender of a top Rwandan Hutu rebel could boost peace prospects in central Africa, but analysts said on Sunday the true test for lasting peace was whether other fugitive commanders would follow suit.

Paul Rwarakabije, the military commander of the 20,000-strong Congo-based Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), gave himself up to Rwandan officials on Saturday.

Rwanda's army chief of staff Major General James Kaberebe said Rwanda would now try to secure the return of his fighters from bases in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"Rwarakabije's surrender is the single-most important event in the Congo peace process in the past few months," said Francois Grignon, the Nairobi-based central Africa director for the International Crisis Group, a think-tank.

"But the next step is to see if other (FDLR) commanders come back to be disarmed and disbanded. That's the big question."

Jason Stern, a U.N. demobilisation officer in the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu, doubted Rwarakabije's capitulation would lead to mass defections by other rebels.

"The surrender effectively cuts off the head of the FDLR, but now you will have smaller groups operating within the fragmented apparatus of the group," Jason Stern told Reuters.

"It would be wrong to say Rwarakabije's return will lead to mass demobilisation of all Hutu extremists."

The FDLR consists of Rwandan Hutus blamed for the 1994 genocide who fled into the lawless provinces of eastern Congo, where their presence fuelled a five-year war that killed more than three million people.

Unlike many other FDLR members, Rwarakabije is not accused of involvement in the genocide.

The conflict polarised the region, pitting Rwanda and Uganda against Congo and its allies Zimbabwe and Angola.

Fighting still rages in the east between armed factions despite the swearing-in in July of a transitional administration in Kinshasa, grouping government and former rebels.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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