Rwanda says will stop Interahamwe harming Burundi

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 22 Dec 2003
BUJUMBURA, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Rwanda said on Monday it was determined to prevent Rwandan Hutu extremist fighters who fled to Congo after the 1994 genocide from moving on to Burundi and disrupting that country's efforts to end its own civil war.
Interahamwe Hutu fighters, largely responsible for the massacre of 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, afterwards fled Rwanda into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo where they are blamed for much of the instability in the vast country.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande told reporters on arrival for a one-day visit to Bujumbura that he wanted to learn more about reports from some Burundi local government officials that Interahamwe fighters had entered the country from Congo.

Officials in Burundi's northern Cibitoke province recently confirmed the presence of Interahamwe -- the word means "those who stand together" -- in their region and said the Rwandans had attacked and looted some villages.

"I think in my discussions with country's authorities, much focus will be put on this question of Interahamwe, maybe Burundi authorities will tell us more about this," he said.

"Once evidence is given that Interahamwe are really present in Burundi, then we will take communal strategies so that they do not destabilise peace which is coming step by step in the Great Lakes region," Murigande said.

Burundian officials said the Interahamwe had been chased out of their bases in the east of Congo by former Mai Mai Congolese militia allies with whom they had fallen out.

Some local government officials say they are hiding in Burundi's northwestern Kibira forest and have teamed up with the militant Hutus of Burundi's Forces for National Liberation (FNL) rebel group which has repeatedly refused to join efforts to end decade-old civil war in Burundi.

An estimated 300,000 people have been killed in Burundi's conflict, in which rebels of the majority Hutu ethnic group are fighting to end the political dominance of the Tutsi minority.

Murigande said he did not think Rwanda would deploy troops in Burundi to attack the Interahamwe as it did in Congo in the late 1990s.

"Rwanda chased Interahamwe on Congolese soil because they were sustained by the former government of Kinshasa and they received military equipment from Congolese army," he said.

"I don't think Burundi will sustain them, and also the Burundi government will never accept that Interahamwe would come to trouble peace in Rwanda.

"We are confident because the Burundi government has several times affirmed that it will never allow Interahamwe to set up a back field (rear base) in Burundi to attack Rwanda."

Burundi's ethnic war was one of many threads complicating the war in Congo, which pitted Rwanda and Uganda against the Kinshasa government and its allies, Zimbabwe and Angola.

Congo's conflict lasted from 1998 until July and killed an estimated three million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

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