Rwanda racked by genocide of stealth

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The Independent Online
The hills of north-western Rwanda might appear a haven of peace, but in recent months hundreds of people have been murdered here.

The rising number of attacks by guerrillas has led some to claim the 1994 genocide, in which 500,000 people died, continues to this day. Also causing concern among human-rights monitors are repressive counter-insurgency operations in which hundreds of unarmed civilians have been killed by government troops in recent months.

The hatred which gave rise to the genocide two years ago is still tearing apart this Central African nation. Despite the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds by the international community and the presence of thousands of United Nations and aid-agency personnel, the two ethnic communities seem no near reconciliation. Reports by UN human-rights observers indicate that not only have the massacres continued but that of late they have increased.

North-western Rwanda has become a battleground for extremists from the Hutu majority and soldiers of the Tutsi-dominated army; of 283 killings last month documented in a just-released report by the UN Human Rights Operation in Rwanda (HRFOR), more than 200 occurred in the north-west. Nearly all of those who died were unarmed civilians, both Hutus and Tutsis.

Among those being targeted by the guerrillas are Tutsi survivors of the genocide who might testify against those who committed atrocities. In one attack at the end of June, 28 Tutsis, among them 16 genocide survivors, were killed in Gisenyi prefecture. It is believed the Interahamwe (an extremist Hutu militia) was responsible.

"The Interahamwe came in the evening when we were asleep," said Deline Mukamusoni. "They broke into our house, saying they were going to kill us for talking to the military. They shot four people dead, including my father. I ran out with my baby and hid in the bushes. I know the names of the two men who led them to our house. I can no longer live here; they could come back for me at any time."

Mrs Mukamusoni had denounced the two men who had murdered her mother and grandfather during the genocide. What frightens her is that the militiamen had come from over the border with the specific intention of killing her family and that they were given directions to the house by neighbours. She has recently moved to another commune.

Also being targeted are local officials, often Hutus deemed traitors for working with the Tutsi-dominated government. HRFOR said three dozen local officials were assassinated in July and August, almost certainly by Hutu insurgents.

The army's response has been to launch massive "cordon and search" operations, rounding up as many as 10,000 people in the mainly Hutu populated countryside.

In the course of the past three months, hundreds of civilians have been shot by soldiers and dozens of others led away, not to be seen again by their families.

"There needs to be serious concern about the level of killing by the Rwandan army," said Ian Martin of the UN Centre for Human Rights. "We're convinced that a lot of unarmed people are being killed. It's impossible to tell how many are collaborators - but even if they are, they shouldn't be considered legitimate targets unless they're posing an actual threat. There must be an investigation into what the army is doing."

The government defends its swoops as legitimate security operations, insisting that many Hutus are openly collaborating with the infiltrators. Few dare to speak out against the army: in recent months three Hutu mayors in the north-west have been arrested for condemning the killings of innocent civilians.