Rwanda admits Hutu massacre

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Kanama, Rwanda - Rwanda's Defence Minister, Paul Kagame, yesterday accused his own government's soldiers of running amok and killing about 100 people in this village near Zaire, including the mayor, who was shot in his bed.

Mr Kagame visited Kanama village, a Hutu stronghold, and said his soldiers, who are mostly Tutsis, used "excessive" force when they went on a rampage, apparently in retaliation for an ambush on an army unit by Hutu infiltrators from Zaire.

"I was told about 100 people were killed," Mr Kagame, who is also Vice- President and Rwanda's most powerful Tutsi politician, said in the first official admission of responsibility for Monday's early-morning attack on Kanama.

"I regret what happened here and I will punish those soldiers who used excessive force," Mr Kagame said.

UN officials said 111 people were killed and 15 seriously wounded. The attackers shot villagers in their homes and gunned down any who tried to flee. Most of the dead were Hutus. Villagers said the soldiers came at dawn and killed people in their sleep.

Most of Kanama's dead were still unburied yesterday. The Hutu mayor, Celestine Setako, lay in a blood-covered bed with three bullet-holes to his head.

A Tutsi guerrilla force came to power in July 1994 after driving the then Hutu government and its army into exile in Zaire following three months of civil war. During the war government soldiers, militia and mobs of the majority Hutu tribe slaughtered up to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

"We're trying to control the damage as soon as possible and discipline soldiers responsible for having gone on a rampage," said Mr Kagame, who went to the village to offer his condolences.

Mr Kagame said the soldiers may have killed out of anger following the death of an army lieutenant in the ambush.

Monday's slaughter dealt a blow to the UN refugee agency's troubled programme to coax the more than 1 million refugees to return to Rwanda by the end of the year before Zairean troops renew a government policy of deporting them.

Many refuse to go home, fearing they will be killed in revenge for last year's genocide. Hutu hardliners in the camps use threats against refugees to prevent their return.

Mr Kagame said security in north-western Rwanda had recently worsened, with frequent raids by Hutus from eastern Zaire. "People crossing from Zaire have access to arms and support. But we have been dealing with that. The message to refugees is that we're not about to have a paradise in Rwanda but we're trying to normalise the situation. The refugees must come back and be active participants in contributing to normality."

n Geneva - Zaire yesterday decided to close its border with Rwanda after the killings in Kanama, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said, AFP reports. The Zairean government also indefinitely suspended an operation begun with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Monday to repatriate Rwandan refugees.

Zaire imposed a curfew in the Goma region, where there are more than 700,000 Rwandan refugees. Two homemade bombs exploded in Goma on Tuesday, causing damage but no injuries.