Members of a Tutsi-led armed group in eastern Zaire massacred about 500 unarmed Rwandese refugees and displaced Zairians at Chimanga refugee camp, 60 kilometres south of Bukavu, according to information received today by Amnesty International.
The victims of last week's massacre include Father Jean-Claude Buhendwa, a Zairian Roman Catholic priest of nearby Burhale parish. Bodies of the victims are reported to have been buried in mass graves near the camp.
"These arbitrary and deliberate mass killings of defenceless civilians are a callous abuse of human rights and should be condemned by the international community," Amnesty International said.
"Governments and organizations which are supporting this armed group should take responsibility to ensure that the perpetrators, including their leaders who ordered these killings, are brought to justice and prevented from carrying out further violations."
Hundreds of refugees and Zairians had congregated around Chimanga camp hoping to obtain assistance to cross into Rwanda, like the hundreds of thousands of Rwandese refugees who returned to Rwanda in recent days. On or around 18 November, Members of the Alliance des forces democratiques pour la liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL), Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, found them at the camp and separated men from women and children. AFDL combatants then opened fire on the men, killing all of them. Father Jean-Claude Buhendwa who had been staying in the camp was initially spared, but was subsequently executed when he protested at the massacre of the civilians.
According to Amnesty International, the AFDL have been reluctant to allow representatives of humanitarian agencies and journalists into the region in order to hide such atrocities. The movements of those allowed into Bukavu are also reported to be severely restricted.
The massacre followed clashes between members of the AFDL and those of the former Rwandese armed forces and interahamwe militia at nearby Bilongo camp and took place after members of the former Rwandese forces had fled the area. Sources in the region say that the women and children who were spared have since fled further west into the interior of Zaire.
"It is unacceptable for the international community to ignore these and other killings and entrusts the return of Rwandese and Burundi refugees to the AFDL, which has committed these atrocities," Amnesty International said.
"We fear that the world could learn of similar crimes when the full story behind the recent mass returns of Rwandese refugees is told."
Amnesty International is calling for an immediate international presence to investigate the killings and other abuses by the AFDL and others, and to prevent their recurrence.
The organization is also calling for an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the death of hundreds of civilians discovered and buried by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Mugunga refugee camp near Goma.