|United Nations officials,
investigating allegations of killing of Rwandan Hutu refugees by President
Kabila's forces during their rebellion against the Mobutu regime, have
received reports of 134 massacres.
They have stated that the magnitude of the offenses justifies the use of words like 'crimes against humanity' and even 'genocide' and that those accused of these acts could face an international war crimes tribunal as has happened in Rwanda and Bosnia.
Hospitals in Zaire (now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo) and in Rwanda are full of disfigured refugees who have 'survived' these massacres. According to them many more have been killed and buried.
The exact number of those killed is not known but aid agencies say it must be in the tens of thousands, including many women and children. From the 1.2 million who escaped from Rwanda after the genocide of 1994, 140,000 remain unaccounted for.
Besides these, 52,000 refugees are still homeless along the border between the two countries. A spokesperson for Doctors Without Frontiers said in July that some 60 of them were dying every day. Many of them had hid in the forest to escape the massacres and are now without food or drinking water. It was not unknown for Kabila's soldiers to spread the rumour that food was on the way only to kill the refugees as they emerged from the forest!
These massacres were in revenge for the genocide. Many of those involved in organizing and carrying out the genocide were hiding among the refugees. It was they who forced the refugees to leave Rwanda and serve as their human shield. From the camps in Zaire they continued to attack the Rwandan army that was now in the hands of the Tutsis.
It was the Tutsi of Eastern Zaire, known as the Banyamulenge, who started the rebellion against Mobutu. They were probably helped by Rwandan soldiers who were then left to massacre the Hutus as a reward!
The Rwandan government has denied this as dose Kabila. The president has found support in his bid to project a clean image from many African countries including Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia.
Kabila was very reluctant to have a full scale investigation by the United Nations into the allegations of massacres. He gave in only because Congo is in dire need of international assistance and only after secretary general Kofi Annan agreed to widen the scope of the investigation to include crimes committed before the rebellion.
Annan had to change also the composition of the investigating team because Chilean lawyer Roberto Garreton, who led the preliminary investigations, was not allowed back into the country. In his report Garreton had said that there were indications that the massacres had been planned beforehand.
Aid agencies have tried to conduct their investigations into the massacres but were faced with a wall of silence. In the East of the country, where most atrocities are said to have been carried out, many aid workers have been attacked.
It seems that the killing of refugees has not ended yet! Physicians for Human Rights said in a recent statement that Rwandan refugees are still being murdered in Congo. During a two-week mission in the region, the organization found that in most cases the killers were Rwandan soldiers.
June 1997: Kabila's troops 'killed thousands'
Refugee News: More on Zaire/Congo