HIDDEN HORRORS: A special report.; Uncovering the Guilty Footprints Along Zaire's Long Trail of Death
Published: November 14, 1997
(Page 5 of 5)
American officials acknowledge that they had information that in the spring and summer of last year the Rwandan Army was arming and training the Tutsi who had fled attacks in eastern Congo. In hindsight, they say, that training was clearly in preparation for the Tutsi rebellion in Congo, but they deny knowing in advance that Rwanda would intervene.
Indeed, American diplomats in Kigali said they had warned the State Department that the presence of armed Hutu groups in the refugee camps could provoke another war in Rwanda.
United States officials also said American intelligence agencies, which have few resources in the region, had no proof that regular Rwandan soldiers were fighting in Congo until late in the conflict.
American diplomats also deny that they had any solid indications that rebel troops or their Rwandan allies were deliberately killing refugees, though they acknowledge having heard such allegations from Congolese human rights groups and aid workers.
That some of the Hutu refugees were fighting on Mr. Mobutu's side and using the innocent refugees as shields also complicates matters.
United Nations officials, who insisted on anonymity, said that there were some armed groups among the refugees and that planeloads of arms and ammunition were flown into refugee camps by Mr. Mobutu's Government, at times on the same planes aid groups had hired to transport food and medicine. Shipments of ammunition were seen going into the camps at Tingi Tingi and Amisi, southeast of Kisangani, just before the rebels attacked, these officials said.
Mr. Kabila and his ally, the Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame, have argued that some former militia members among the refugees were armed and fighting back and that most of the people killed were not innocent at all, but combatants.
''The picture being given out is that the war was fought by one side,'' Claude Dusaidi, a high-ranking Rwandan defense official, said in a recent interview. ''I don't know how you can tell the difference between the bones of a Congolese soldier and the bones of a Hutu refugee.''
Yet human rights groups assert that the former rebels and their Rwandan allies appear to be cleaning up massacre sites to prevent them from making just such a determination.
Mr. Kabila and his Rwandan allies have insisted that the United Nations team examine massacres as far back as 1993, which would mean looking into mass killings of Tutsi in eastern Congo by the Hutu militants in the refugee camps as well as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Dead May Remain Forever Uncounted
Despite the welter of massacre reports, it has been impossible so far to unearth definitive evidence, much less an accurate tally of how many Hutu refugees were killed.
While United Nations investigators have found a few dozen witnesses in refugee camps outside Congo who describe horrific massacres, even those accounts must be treated with caution, investigators say. Some may have a motive to lie or to exaggerate what happened, since many are themselves suspected of genocide crimes in Rwanda.
''We would not write up a report today because we did not test that stuff in the way it needs to be tested,'' said one United Nations investigator, who insisted on anonymity. ''On the basis of what our witnesses told us it would be impossible to give you numbers of dead. It's very sketchy.''
In its report, Human Rights Watch said it was able to corroborate the reports of many Hutu survivors by interviewing Congolese villagers. Because they have been denied permission to travel around the country, United Nations investigations say they have not similarly been able to back up refugee accounts with these local witnesses.
The number of refugees still missing is another mystery, United Nations officials said. Though on paper there were 1.1 million refugees in the camps in eastern Congo before the war, refugee officials acknowledge that those numbers were inflated because refugees regularly registered under false names to get extra food and supplies.
When the camps were attacked in November last year, a flood of people crossed back into Rwanda. That number has been estimated between 600,000 and 750,000, based on what was seen from military reconnaissance aircraft, but it is not known for sure.
Since then, about 266,000 refugees have been flown or trucked back to Rwanda and about 20,000 are still in camps in other countries, according to United Nations statistics.
All told, the number of people still unaccounted for ranges from a few thousand to 233,000, depending on the figures used for the original camp population in eastern Congo and the first large-scale homecoming.
''The bottom line is we don't know the figures,'' a top-ranking official of the United Nations refugee agency said. There is no way we are going to get an absolutely accurate count at this point.''
Yet United Nations officials maintain there is enough evidence to press forward with an investigation based on the accounts from refugees, Congolese villagers, local staff members, and in some cases soldiers themselves.
''I don't think we have the evidence there was a policy of extermination,'' one high-ranking United Nations refugee official in Nairobi said. ''We do have clear facts. It's clear that there have been killings with impunity by alliance troops.''
Photo: Many of the Rwandan Hutu refugees emerging from the dense forest near Kisangani in April 1997 told of massacres and mass graves. The death toll is unknown. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)(pg. A12) Chart/Map: ''OVERVIEW: Pieces of a Gruesome Pattern'' A partial list of suspected massacre sites in Congo under investigation by the United Nations. In general, the path of atrocities sweeps from the east, where the rebellion against the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko gained force in late 1996, toward the west, where the rebels under Laurent Kabila culminated their campaign and took control of the Government in May. 1. Oct. 6, 1996 50-60 reported dead after a hospital raid. 2. Oct. 25-26 1,500 killed, with at least 150 bodies found dumped in mass graves, according to a Congolese human rights group. 3. Nov. 15 Thousands reported dead by a Congolese human rights group, but journalists find no evidence. 4. Nov. 17 Up to 300 reported killed. 5. December About 100 bodies found by a journalist. 6, 7, 8, 9. February-June 1997 Several hundred, perhaps thousands, killed in attacks reported by refugees and villagers. 10. April 20 Hundreds reported dead by refugees and villagers who describe bodies being dumped into bulldozed pits. 11. April 22 At least 1,000 reported dead by a religious leader, who describes executions. 12. May 13 At least 114 dead in mass graves found by a human rights worker. 13. May 13 200 to 2,000 reported dead by refugees, local Red Cross workers and townspeople. Journalists and aid workers later see bodies. (pg. A12)