Threats against Americans in Rwanda

News and Press Release
Originally published
By CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press Writer
KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- American and U.N. officials advised Americans in Rwanda on Friday to take extra precautions after a shadowy rebel group announced rewards for killing U.S. citizens.The Hutu group, People in Arms for the Liberation of Rwanda, offered a $1,500 reward for killing U.S. Ambassador Robert Gribben and $1,000 for killing any other American citizen, in a statement faxed to news agencies in Nairobi on Thursday night.The U.S. Embassy in Kigali said Friday that threats against the ambassador or American citizens always were taken seriously and advised Americans to be extra cautious.

U.N. officials said they were considering restricting Americans working for them to the capital, which so far has been untouched by rebel operations.

"This threat ... is designed to intimidate. While we acknowledge its existence and increase our precautions, we continue with our daily activities," the embassy said in a statement. The rebel group was unheard of before June 1, when it announced plans to overthrow the Tutsi-led government. The group claims to have a base in southwestern Cyangugu province, but it is not known how many followers it has or how well they are armed.

"To begin our combat on the right foot, we must attack every person or entity which helps the RPF (the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front) consolidate its power," the rebel statement said. "This is why, dear compatriots, we ask you to start today to make the atmosphere unbreathable for Americans in our territory and even in the region."

Rwandan military and government officials have maintained the group does not have bases inside Rwanda, but launches its attacks from refugee camps in eastern Zaire. Most of the attacks inside Rwanda take place along the volatile and loosely guarded Zairian and Burundian borders. Insurgents loyal to the former Hutu-dominated government have launched
cross-border raids into Rwanda since they were driven into exile by Tutsi-led rebels in 1994, following the state-sponsored genocide of more than 500,000 people, mostly Tutsis or politically moderate Hutus. Before the Hutu rebels issued their threat to seize control of the government, rebel attacks inside Rwanda appeared random. In recent weeks, however, attacks by large, organized and uniformed groups have increased, and the group's leaflets have been found at the scene of at least one rebel attack.

A group of 70 insurgents staged a series of raids in Cynagugu province between June 12 and 19 in which they mortar-bombed several towns and a Chinese-owned cement factory, prompting the company to evacuate 36 of its 45 Chinese staff. A mortar was also fired into Cyangugu's provincial capital last week. There were no casualties reported in any of these incidents.

U.S. and Rwandan officials have complained that refugee camps in Zaire are hotbeds of Hutu extremists, many of whom helped carry out the 1994 genocide. However, control over the camps, which cost up to $2 million a day to run, seems to be slipping as aid agencies are cutting back on staff because of danger of further attacks. Refugees recently fired assault rifles at aid workers conducting a census in a camp near Bukavu, Zaire.

U.S. officials have proposed cutting funding for the camps to encourage refugee repatriation to Rwanda. But the U.N. refugee agency has recommended instead that the camps be moved deeper inside Zaire. Privately, however, aid workers question whether the camps, some with as many as 250,000 people, can be controlled any longer.

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