Zaire refugee camps site of new ethnic killing
Hutu - Tutsi violence spills over from Rwanda, Burundi
October 13, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EDT (0345 GMT)
UVIRA, Zaire (CNN) -- Ethnic violence in Zaire is escalating
rapidly out of control at a time when the country's
stability is already uncertain due to President Mobutu Sese Seko's ill
health. (18 sec./ 752K QuickTime movie)
With Mobutu said to be receiving treatment at a Swiss clinic
for a cancer that may prove terminal, Zairean authorities
have vowed to crush a six-week-old rebellion related to
More than two years after the genocide in Rwanda the flames
of ethnic hatred are again being fanned, as the fighting
between Hutu and Tutsi threatens to burst the borders of
Rwanda and Burundi and spill into Zaire.
Zairean troops are aligned with the Hutu ethnic group, and
are fighting against a subgroup of the Tutsi ethnic group,
the Banyamulenge rebels. The Banyamulenge Tutsi are said to
be supported by government troops in neighboring Rwanda. Many
of the Hutus allied with the Zairian troops are refugees who
have fled from Rwanda and nearby Burundi.
Children with machetes
A sense of anarchy pervades Uvira in eastern Zaire as Hutu
children, marshaled to join a witchhunt for Tutsis, wander the
streets armed with machetes, saws and other household tools.
The scene is eerily reminiscent of Rwanda in 1994 during the
height of that country's genocide when Hutus killed as many
as one million Tutsis.
Years of discrimination against the Tutsi Banyamulenge have
escalated sharply in recent months as the Zairians have tried
to expel them from the country. The Zairian army and militias
are being given a license to kill.
During September, Zairian authorities executed 35
Banyamulenge, and more than 50 disappeared, Amnesty
"We could have another exodus, another displaced of hundreds
of thousands around all these plains and into Rwanda and into
Burundi and we don't know where they would end up," said Jame
Abdelwahab, World Food Program representative.
Rebels fight back
But the Banyamulenge, a successful people who have lived in
mountainous eastern Zaire for 200 years, are fighting back.
Armed with mortars and small arms, they attacked the
predominately Hutu Runingo refugee camp Sunday just west of
the Burundian border. A United Nations source said four
refugees were killed and six wounded in the attack.
"About 20,000 refugees, almost the whole camp, is moving
from Runingo to camps further northwards," an aid worker
The Banyamulenge attackers fled by foot towards the high
plateau above Uvira from where they launched their rebellion.
Denouncing virtual war in eastern Zaire, South Kivu deputy
governor Lwasi Ngabo Lwabanji last week gave the Banyamulenge
a week to leave Zaire or be treated as rebels and face all-
out war with Zairean soldiers.
Zairean troops, apparently incensed by casualties fighting
the guerrillas, went on a looting spree last week in Uvira,
the lakeside town on the other side of the border from
Burundi's capital, Bujumbura.
Humanitarian sources in Kinshasa, Zaire's capital nearly
1,250 miles (2,000 km) west of Uvira, said the attackers
numbered at least 100.
Logistics of food aid
Runingo is one of the 12 refugee camps in South Kivu
province, home to about 230,000 Hutu refugees, two-thirds
from Burundi and one-third from Rwanda.
It is the camp closest to the border with Burundi, whose
Tutsi-led military regime says the camps are bases for Hutu
rebels striking into Burundi.
Zaire has accused the Tutsi-dominated army of Rwanda,
Burundi's northern neighbour, of training and arming the
Maintaining the refugee camps and preventing mass starvation
is a huge logistical task, one that could become impossible
if violence escalates further.
Food must be brought from barges at Boma, where the Congo
River flows into the Atlantic, over a thousand miles to
eastern Africa where the refugee camps are located. Vehicles
transport the food over narrow roads which are easily
A U.N.and private relief organizations have steadily
withdrawn foreign staff from Uvira in the past week. A U.N.
refugee agency is expected to visit the area with a military
escort Monday to assess the situation.
There are more than 1.5 million Rwandan and Burundian Hutu
refugees in eastern Zaire. Their presence, many complain,
destabilizes the situation.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, meeting with
regional leaders Friday, called for the closure of the camps,
which cost the international community more than $2 million a
Reuters contributed to this report.
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