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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 tribal conflict.


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

child with saw

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 International said.

"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 said.

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 Banyamulenge guerrillas.

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 blocked.

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 day.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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