GENEVA (AP) — On Nov. 14, 1996, armed men surrounded the Mugunga refugee camp in eastern Zaire and began shooting indiscriminately at its inhabitants as they huddled for safety or tried to flee.
Hundreds of men, women and children died over a three-day period, according to eyewitnesses and forensic evidence later gathered from mass graves.
A report published Friday by the U.N. human rights office now says the killings at Mugunga may have been one of many instances that — taken together — could constitute genocide by the Rwandan army, which at the time was hunting down Hutu rebels in neighboring Zaire, now called Congo.
The suggestion has sparked an angry response from Rwanda, whose President Paul Kagame has long basked in international approval for ending the 1994 genocide in his own country, during which more than half a million people, mostly Tutsis but also some moderate Hutus, were killed.
Calling the report “flawed and dangerous from start to finish,” Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo claimed it was an attempt to rewrite her country’s history.
In a written riposte to the United Nations, the government in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, said its troops “never fired any weapons into the camp” at Mugunga and civilians only began to be killed when armed rebels inside the camp tried to stop people from fleeing. As fighting broke out, civilians who were being kept as human shields by the rebels died in the crossfire, it said.
The $3 million report also details more than 600 other incidents between 1993 and 2003 in which tens of thousands of people — mostly women and children — were killed in gruesome attacks by the many armed groups roving eastern Congo during the period.
Human rights activists and Congo's government welcomed the report, immediately calling for its recommendation that perpetrators be prosecuted to be acted upon.
Congo’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Ileka Atoki, described the report as “heartbreaking” and “horrific.”
“The victims deserve justice and they deserve that their voices are heard by my government and by the international community,” said Atoki. “Like all Congolese people, I want to see justice for these crimes and I want to help rebuild our country on the basis of the rule of law. I can assure that the Congolese
Government is firmly committed to that endeavor.
Amnesty International described the report as “a very thorough investigation.”
“What we want now is for action to be taken,” said Veronique Aubert, deputy director of the group’s Africa Program. “The cycle of violence in the region will only stop if those responsible for these horrific crimes are held to account.”
In another damning account, the report described how Rwandan soldiers killed about 200 refugees near the town of Kigulube on Feb. 15, 1997.
“A group of around sixty refugees were imprisoned in a house which was then set on fire by the soldiers. The victims’ bodies were thrown into mass graves,” it says.
U.N. report: http://bit.ly/CongoReport
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