Camp killings dent Kabila's credibility

Click to follow
The Independent Online
As diplomats struggled in Kinshasa to prevent a bloody climax to Zaire's seven-month civil war, hundreds of miles to the east, in rebel-held territory, the mutilated, macheted bodies of refugees were piling up.

After a week of international protests, - including claims by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, that the rebels were attempting to exterminate Rwandan Hutu refugees - journalists and aid workers were allowed access to areas south of Kisangani, where 80,000 refugees fled in panic after attacks on Biaro and Kasese camps.

What they saw belied rebel leader Laurent Kabila's assurances that his soldiers were not responsible for the attacks. Dark clouds now hang over Mr Kabila, whose swift rebellion has, until now, won international acceptance, if not admiration.

In Biaro camp, 20 corpses were discovered, many covered with machete marks. The stench of dead bodies drifted in from the surrounding jungle. Before the camps emptied, more than 9,000 refugees were judged too sick to walk. Many of them it can be assumed have been claimed by the forest.

As thousands of refugees begin to drift back timidly to the ransacked camps, some bear injuries so horrific that nothing can be done for them.

Mbajo Njirabakaranye sat under a tree, his skull smashed and his arm, raised to fend off blows, a bloody stump. As he moaned and rocked back and forward his desperate wife offered journalists his bank savings book if they would help.

She said rebels and Zairean soldiers had joined forces. The soldiers had swarmed through the camp firing indiscriminately as local Zaireans attacked the refugees with machetes and knives.

Mr Kabila has claimed his soldiers tried to stop the attacks by locals. Aid workers laugh bitterly at the notion of the rebels as champions of the refugees. Last night Emma Bonino, the European Commissioner for humanitarian aid, accused the rebels of deliberately trying to wipe out the refugees.

A UN spokesman said yesterday that in another incident more than a hundred refugees - including 50 children - were abducted from a village hospital in eastern Zaire on Saturday. Suffering from malnutrition and disease, they had been forced into trucks in the village of Lwiro, in south Kivu, by 20 uniformed soldiers, led by a local rebel commander. The refugees had not been seen since and were feared dead.

Last night a UN investigation into human rights abuses was under way. In Geneva a team was assembling to investigate allegations of rebel-led massacre and a rebel campaign to drive refugees into the jungle where it was hoped they would die. An advance team had reached the Rwanda capital Kigali last night.

The violence in the Zairean camps finds its roots in the Rwandan Hutu genocide of 800,000 of their Tutsi countrymen in 1994. The atrocity led to the exodus of 2 million Hutus to Zaire. The refugees in Kasese and Biaro camps are the rump who have resisted rebel efforts to force them home.

In Rwanda, as in Zaire, the genocide's violent reverberations are still being felt. On Monday, 22 people, including an elderly Belgian nun and 17 female students, were murdered when armed men burst into a school in the village of Murumba, Gisenyi province, near Rwanda's border with Zaire.

When the men demanded they divide themselves into Hutus and Tutsis the students refused. So the men shot them all. Hutu militiamen are reported to be responsible for the mass murder.

Officials claim the killers are returnees from the Zairean refugee camps, which still harbour some of the worst perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide.