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DRC troops hand over 51 captured Burundi rebels

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BUJUMBURA, Apr 17 (Reuters) Congolese troops today handed over to the Burundian army 51 captured fighters from Burundi's last remaining rebel group, authorities said.

Authorities said it was a sign of increasing military cooperation between the neighbours in the turbulent Great Lakes region, where rebels from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda take shelter in the largely lawless eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

''Today, we are starting a process of repatriating all Burundian fighters who will be captured on Congolese soil,'' Colonel Dominique Enekunga, a Congolese military commander, told reporters when the prisoners were transferred at the Burundian border.

''We are happy about this new partnership between our two armies, we had always said that there are FNL fighters who are attacking our country from Congo, and this is a good evidence'', Burundian army spokesman Major Adolphe Manirakiza said.

The rebels from Burundi's Hutu Forces for National Liberation (FNL) were caught in southeastern DRC, where the FNL has often launched attacks, including the massacre of more than 160 Congolese Tutsis in a Burundian refugee camp in August 2004.

Enekunga said there were 40 other rebels who are still to be brought to Burundi.

The FNL is the last rebel group fighting in Burundi, which is tasting relative peace for the first time in more than a decade.

The central African nation of 7 million people in August elected a president under a peace plan designed to end a cycle of ethnic slaughter that began in 1993 and killed more than 300,000.

REUTERS CH PM2302

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