DR Congo

Rwandans attack refugee camp in Zaire

GOMA, Zaire (Oct 27, 1996 01:25 a.m. EDT) -- Attackers believed to be Rwandan soldiers ambushed a Rwandan refugee camp on Saturday, killing at least four people, wounding hundreds and setting off a stampede of more than 200,000 people.
Soldiers of the 7th battalion of the Tutsi-led Rwandan army crossed into Zaire and attacked the Hutu refugees, according to a source knowledgeable about the situation. He declined to be identified for fear of retaliation.

However, Maj. Charles Agaba, a staff officer at Rwandan army headquarters in the capital, Kigali, said the 7th battalion was in Kigali on Saturday.

Fleeing refugees told aid workers that shells landed inside Kibumba camp and along their escape route south to Goma. The camp hospital was burned.

"It's tragic, appalling. We have a human river 25 kilometers (15 miles) long from the camp south to Goma," said Panos Moumtzis, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

More than 50 wounded refugees, soldiers and civilians from a nearby village were being treated at the Goma hospital. UNHCR field officers reported seeing four bodies, but added that those in flight said dozens -- possibly hundreds -- were killed.

The assault is part of a spreading series of small wars in central Africa fueled by a power struggle between Hutus and Tutsis.

It was one of the worst attacks on eastern Zaire since the former Hutu government in Rwanda unleashed a genocide that killed at least 500,000 people in 1994, mostly Tutsis. Still, Tutsi rebels badly beat the Hutus, who fled to Zaire and Tanzania.

The Hutus have refused to return, fearing reprisals from the Tutsi-led army for the massacre. Hutu extremists have been using refugee camps in Zaire as bases for cross-border raids into Rwanda.

In the past week, eastern Zaire has descended into chaos -- rebels have fought their way north from Lake Tanganika towards Bukavu on Lake Kivu. With this new battleground north of Lake Kivu, a half-million refugees are roaming a corridor in eastern Zaire.

Heavy artillery was fired from hills along the border into Kibumba camp and neighboring Buhumba village from Friday evening until dawn Saturday, Moumtzis said. About 15,000 Zairian villagers -- plus the 200,000 refugees -- fled toward Goma.

Moumtzis could not confirm who launched the attack.

The source said about 800 soldiers with the Rwandan army's 7th battalion attacked Kibumba.

Agaba, a staff officer at Rwandan army headquarters in Kigali, called the report "completely untrue."

"The 7th battalion is based in Kigali, and it is here now, of that I am sure," Agaba said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Nairobi, Kenya.

Agaba said he wasn't in a position to comment about movements of other Rwandan army units.

The source also said a Rwandan battalion crossed from Uganda into Zaire last week. The battalion steadily has taken ground from the Zairian army, he said.

The invading force captured Rutshuru, 40 miles north of Goma, then moved toward Goma, taking Rugari and Kibumba. "They're still coming south," the source said. No further confirmation was available.

In Goma, the World Food Program and the U.N. agency for refugees were figuring out how to cope with the new refugee crisis. Kibumba is the second largest of five camps north of Lake Kivu near Goma.

Plans were made to distribute food on Sunday, said Bouchan Hadj-Chikh, emergency coordinator for the World Food Program. Hadj-Chikh did not say how that would be accomplished.

In Bukavu, 128 international aid workers and foreign nationals were evacuated by air Saturday after mortar rounds hit the edge of a refugee camp there. There was panic in the Panzi refugee camp, which shelters 7,200 Hutus, but no injuries were reported.

It was impossible to tell who fired the mortar shells.

The United Nations had said earlier Saturday that it would evacuate foreign aid workers from Goma and Bukavu. However, Hadj-Chikh said later that the Goma staff of 60 would remain, at least for now.

Moumtzis said the refugees fleeing toward Goma would need help quickly because they left too fast to take food.

Copyright =A9 1996 Nando.net
Copyright =A9 1996 The Associated Press