Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Refugees From Congo Give Vivid Accounts of Killings

By HOWARD W. FRENCH
The New York Times
September 23, 1997

Like many of the 4,600 Hutu refugees in the United Nations camp in this remote riverside village, Odette Mporayonzi remembers in all its terrifying detail the army attack that killed her husband and hundreds of her compatriots and finally drove the survivors out of the country formerly known as Zaire.

On May 13, just as many of the refugees had begun to prepare breakfast, they heard the ominous sound of trucks approaching. Moments later, soldiers began circling their makeshift camp at Wendji. And as orders to fire were shouted by men speaking the languages of Rwanda and Zaire, the massacres began.

''My husband had gone to fetch firewood, so I was all alone when it began,'' said Mrs. Mporayonzi, 20, who was seven months pregnant at the time of the massacre, and spoke as she nursed her tiny daughter. ''The bullets were falling on us like the rain in a storm. I ran until I fell, and then I just watched what happened.

''The soldiers kept shooting and shooting, and so many people were dying. When a Zairian soldier stopped to rummage through the belongings of people who had been killed, an officer shouted to him in our language, 'That stuff can wait until our mission has been accomplished!' ''

Since Laurent Kabila's first days in power there have been persistent reports of a massacre at the western city of Mbandaka, which, unlike earlier reports of massacres in the east of the country, took place well after Mr. Kabila's forces had gained a strong upper hand in the country's civil war.

The reported massacre of as many as 2,000 Hutu refugees at Wendji and Mbandaka, which began just four days before Mr. Kabila took power and changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has become a major test in a battle of wills between the United Nations and the new Government.

Since a United Nations-mandated investigation team arrived here nearly one month ago, Western diplomats say Mr. Kabila's Government has repeatedly thrown up obstacles to its work. Last week the team was denied permission to travel to the Mbandaka area, where investigators had planned to begin their field work.

While investigators are being delayed and their work obstructed, they fear the witnesses they need will disappear.

Mr. Kabila and his Government have repeatedly denied persistent reports that their Rwandan-supported army, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, massacred Rwandan Hutu as they drove tens of thousands of the refugees clear across Africa's third-largest country during a successful seven-month campaign for power.

The Hutu refugee populations though made up mostly of women and children, nonetheless harbored substantial numbers of men suspected by Rwanda's Tutsi-led Government of taking part in the 1994 massacre of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Tutsi.

Congolese officials now say that they have only consented to investigations of massacres that are alleged to have taken place in the country's east, and that the investigation may only cover the period before Mr. Kabila seized power from the former dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, on May 17.
''This is a deliberate provocation on the part of the Secretary General of the United Nations,'' said Etienne Richard Mbaya, the minister who has represented the Congo's Government in its dealings with the investigators.

United Nations officials, who have already yielded to the Kabila Government's demands on other questions, such as the choice of the leader of the investigation, insist, however, that their mandate includes no such restrictions.

In recent days, the exasperated Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has given increasingly direct warnings that if Mr. Kabila's officials continue to impede the investigation, the team will be recalled, hindering the new Government's ability to attract international assistance.
In the meantime, there are mounting fears that while an international forensic team remains blocked in Kinshasa, the Kabila Government may be cleaning up suspected massacre sites and rounding up potential witnesses.

In the last week, for example, according to local church workers and relief experts in the city of Kisangani, the driver of a tractor that is believed to have been used around one major suspected massacre site, as well as the Belgian proprietor of the surrounding farm land, were arrested without charge. The Belgian Embassy in Kinshasa has confirmed the detention of the farm owner, Antoine de Klerk.

In Loukolela, the Hutu survivors who have gathered across the Congo River from the former Zaire, 200 miles northeast of Kinshasa, say they know little about the conflict that pits the United Nations against Mr. Kabila's Government.

What they do have, however, are consistent accounts of the murderous attacks that they suffered in the Mbandaka area, as well as at several other stops during their westward trek of more than 1,000 miles across the country.

Mrs. Mporayonzi remembers wandering the woods after the attack had subsided, and said she was taken in by a Zairian family to whom she owes her survival. They told her that she looked enough like the local people to pass undetected, gave her a white bandanna to wear, in the fashion townspeople had adopted as a sign of support for Mr. Kabila, and urged her not to talk to people.

The next day, while she stood in front of the house where she had taken refuge, Mrs. Mporayonzi said a truckload of solders drove by and then stopped. She had feared they were looking for her, but instead they grabbed a Hutu boy on the street.

She said they yelled, ''Here is another son of Habyarimana,'' referring Juvenal Habyarimana, the Hutu former President of Rwanda. ''Right there in the road the soldiers swung the boy by his feet and beat his head against a tree trunk until he was dead.''

Mrs. Mporayonzi said she turned away in horror but had to bite her hand to keep from screaming for fear of giving herself away.

Emmanuel Hikiamana, a 24-year-old Hutu refugee, said that rather than risk being discovered and killed at Wendji he had run on in a panic through marshland to the nearby river port city of Mbandaka, where others fleeing with him had been told there was a ferry crossing to the Congo Republic.

''At least 20 people were shot down right in front of me,'' Mr. Hikiamana said of his flight from Wendji. ''The attackers were a mixture of Zairians fighting for Kabila and men who spoke Kinyarwanda,'' the language of Rwanda.

A young, fit man with a bright smile, Mr. Hikiamana made it to the Mbandaka ferry unscathed. By the time he got there, however, the two trucks that had attacked his camp at Wendji had already arrived, and soldiers were just beginning to open fire on the crowded barge.

''When I saw that, I just hid in the brush for a while until I felt safe enough to keep running,'' he said. Later, he crossed the river in a canoe.

Other refugees told of encountering Zairian soldiers who offered to save them in exchange for small sums of money, and of Zairian civilians who, visibly disgusted by the killings, helped them without asking for anything in return. These people, they said, had been warned of reprisals if they did not surrender any surviving Hutu.

Among the most terrible of the accounts was that of a Hutu man who did not wish to be identified, who was led with his family through the forest by a Zairian man. As they neared a road, the man said they were detected by two soldiers, who captured his wife, two children and an orphan girl in their care.

''My family was ordered to sit on the side of the road along with other refugees already caught,'' he said. ''There were about 80 refugees with their hands tied behind their backs, lying face down on the side of the road. They started beating the refugees, and when they appeared dead, they dragged them into the swamp.

''I saw almost all 80 of these refugees beaten to death, including my wife and two children.''

Related Materials:
Mbandaka Terminus: The Path of Rwandan Refugee Mass Graves in Congo

DRC: Murder of Hutu women and children around Mbandaka

U.S. Faces Surprise, Dilemma in Africa

USA: Article prompts memories of Rwanda struggle

USA: Refugee in Abilene who survived genocide earns her GED

Beyond the Myth Ex-FAR/Interahamwe and the Congolese Tragedy

Rwandan Hutu Refugees in DRC: Slaves of the 21st Century

Rwandan refugees in Congo on the brink of extermination

Rwanda: Paul Kagame is implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity

Rwanda: Is Paul Kagame the New Hitler?

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