DR Congo + 1 more

Zaire, Rwanda edge toward war amid refugee crisis

News and Press Release
Originally published
CYANGUGU, Rwanda (Oct 31, 1996 02:30 a.m. EST) - Ethnic conflict in the heart of Africa has edged towards war between Zaire and Rwanda, with no sign of relief for more than a million displaced people.
Aid workers in the Zaire capital said a new wave of refugees fleeing attacks on camps close to Uganda on Wednesday could swell a city of homeless in Magunga near Goma to a million.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Bukavu was killed and two Spanish priests were separately held hostage in the town, which saw the main fighting in Zaire's two Kivu provinces.

As the violence escalated, the special envoy appointed by the United Nations to bring an end to the crisis said he was confident he could at least get all sides to sit down and talk.

"It's an extraordinarily difficult mission," Raymond Chretien, Canada's ambassador to Washington, told reporters.

"I am confident about establishing a frank dialogue with the leaders in the area to see what can be done," he said in Toronto.

As Zaire and Rwanda traded tough words, both countries acknowledged they were headed for war. Rwanda confirmed its troops entered Zaire "after they hit our territory and killed our people."

It was not entirely clear who controlled Bukavu, a lakeside city across from the Rwandan border. Some residents in radio accounts spoke of looting and the presence of Rwandan commandos.

The conflict began with a Zairean army campaign against ethnic Tutsis but springs from the deadly rivalry between Tutsis and Hutus which resulted in nearly one million dead in Rwanda's 1994 genocide and left Zaire the unhappy host to 1.1 million Hutu Rwandan refugees.

The Kinshasa government accuses Rwanda and Burundi, whose armies and governments are dominated by Tutsis, of backing Banyamulenge Tutsis against the Zairean army.

And on Wednesday Zaire for the first time linked Uganda, whose army commanders and Rwanda's were once guerrilla comrades-in-arms, to fresh clashes in its eastern borderlands.

"We also have evidence to prove that the Ugandan army has entered the fray near Beni," Minister of Information Boguo Makeli told Reuters. He gave no other details.

Beni is near the border with Uganda, close to Mount Stanley in the Ruwenzori range -- Central Africa's fabled Mountains of the Moon. Aid workers said refugee camps in the area were attacked on Wednesday.

Zaire accuses Rwanda and Burundi, whose armies and governments are dominated by Tutsis, of backing Banyamulenge Tutsis battling its own army. It had not previously accused Uganda, whose army commanders and Rwanda's were once guerrilla comrades-in-arms.

Boguo also hit back at Rwanda's vice-president and defence minister, Paul Kagame, who had declared that Rwanda was ready for war with Zaire.

"It is pointless for Paul Kagame to say Rwanda is ready to fight us. The war is already here," Boguo said, repeating Zaire's charges of aggression against Rwanda.

Italy said it hoped the two countries would be able to meet in Rome on the sidelines of a November 13-17 food summit.

Aid workers in Kinshasa told Reuters a refugee camp in Rumangabo near the borders of Uganda and Rwanda had been attacked, sending inmates fleeing.

Other refugees were on the march from Katale and Kahindo, which had not been supplied.

They could not tell who was responsible for the attack.

"Following an attack on Rumangabo camp, there is another movement of refugees towards Mugunga. Other refugees have left Katale and Kahindo for Mugunga, which could soon have as many as a million refugees," one aid worker said.

Michelle Quintaglie, spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Programme in Goma, said separately that initial reports that the 115,000 Rwandan refugees in Kahindo were headed for Mugunga camp appeared to have been wrong.

"The first reports from local aid workers in the camp were they had all left. But subsequent reports indicate they have only moved within the camp and are not heading to Mugunga," she said.

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