|Massacres of refugees coming to light in Zaire/Congo||More information|
now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo, details are emerging of the
massacres perpetrated by the rebels, now in power, on Rwandan Hutu refugees
who had sought refugee in the East of the country.
These refugees have been in eastern Zaire since 1994. They left from Rwanda to escape the vengeance of their rival group, the Tutsis, after the genocide in which half a million Tutsi were massacred by Hutu extremists. Some 2 million Hutus left Rwanda; most ended up in Zaire. When the civil war started last September, about three quarters of a million went back to Rwanda.
Among those refusing to go back are soldiers of the former Rwandan army and members of the Interahamwe, the Hutu militia. These are the same people who carried out the genocide. In order to protect themselves and their families, they are not allowing thousands of refugees, mainly women and children to go back home. These refugees are in effect being used as human shields.
The forces of the new President, Laurent Kabila, are led by officers from the Banyamulenge, ethnic Tutsis whose ancestors came to east Zaire 200 years ago and became relatively rich from mining. It was they who started the rebellion last September when the government tried to strip them of citizenship. They were joined by all those who wanted President Mobutu out and in eight months took over the whole country.
The new government initially denied the massacres and was threatening to expel members of humanitarian organizations who exposed them but now says that some refugees could have been caught in the crossfire. President Kabila, under pressure from the international community that send millions of dollars on aid to Zaire every year, has said that he will allow the U.N. to investigate and promised to assign a minister to the refugee problem.
One of the massacres is said to have occurred near the city of Mbandaka, on the river Congo. Up to 900 refugees are reported to have been killed after having walked 750 miles in the jungle to escape the fighting in eastern Zaire. Some of the refugees, including women and children, are said to have been killed by stones and pieces of wood!
In Wendji, 12 miles south of Mbandaka, Red Cross officials counted 350 corpses in one day. Some common graves were discovered but most refugees killed are thought to have been thrown in the river or burnt.
On May 22, hundreds of refugees were killed in Kisingani in the East. Here, the local inhabitants instead of hiding the refugees as the people of Mbandaka have done, joined the rebels in the massacre. The same happened in Kasese where hundreds of refugees were killed.
In the beginning of May, 60 refugees were dying every day in the camps near Kisingani because the rebels were not allowing aid workers to enter the camps. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan accused the rebels of killing the refugees.
There were allegations that, at the time of the massacres, soldiers were heard talking in Rwandan. Some observers think that Tutsi soldiers helped Kabila's troops during the war and were then given a free hand to deal with the refugees. Rwanda has denied any involvement in the Zairian civil war.
Many refugees died, from hunger or illness, in the jungle where they had gone to escape the fighting. About 6,000 managed to come out and were repatriated by the U.N. Since April 27 UNHCR, the U.N. agency for refugees, and the World Food Program have airlifted some 45,500 refugees back to Rwanda.
The French organization, Doctors Without Frontiers, maintains that there are still 190,000 Rwandan refugees who are unaccounted for. These include some 50 children who were abducted from a hospital in Lwiro at the end of April.
Ngoy Kasukuti, a Lutheran bishop, has issued a report on the killing of refugees. He has also spoken to some of Kabila's officers. Kasukuti confirms that refugees were killed but does not mention numbers. He puts a lot of the blame on the bad treatment Tutsis received during Mobutu's regime. He is also critical of the U.N. for their failure to disarm the Interahamwe.
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