With evacuation efforts paralyzed for thousands of sick and starving Rwandan Hutu refugees stranded in central Zaire, U.N. officials are accusing Zaire’s rebel movement of deliberately impeding relief operations.
Relief agencies say there is mounting evidence of a drive by the Zairian insurgents to kill off thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees whom the rebels allegedly have been executing in isolated villages and forests.
In an unusually blunt criticism on Monday, the head of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, accused the Zairian rebellion led by Laurent Kabila of manufacturing pretenses to deny relief workers access to as many as 100,000 of the desperate Hutu who are located in the region of Kisangani and of preventing the operation of an airlift to transport them home.
U.N. officials said that for days, rebels of Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo had been whipping up anti-refugee sentiment, leading to civilian attacks against the refugees, and blocking work to bring relief to thousands of people, ensuring that many will starve.
“Crowds of civilians have been attacking aid vehicles and looting food aid over the last four days,” Ogata said. “In the border town of Goma, the other end of the proposed air bridge from Kisangani, local authorities commandeered jet fuel earmarked for the airlift. The latest security operation, mounted in response to the alleged killing of Zairian nationals by refugees, follows an aggressive radio campaign against the refugees in the region.”
Among the other reasons given by the rebels for stalling the airlift have been expressions of concern that the refugees might spread cholera.
The government of Rwanda, meanwhile, has said that it cannot allow its airspace to be crowded by an intensive airlift operation.
Zaire’s rebels now control over half of the country and appear poised to unseat the longtime dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. But international relief groups who have followed the movements of the wandering refugees say that throughout the war, Kabila’s fighters have never lost sight of another apparent priority: wiping out pockets of Rwandan Hutus.
xxxx PROBE OF GENOCIDE In Geneva on Tuesday, the United Nations said the Zairian rebels have given it permission to investigate claims that rebel forces had slaughtered refugees as the rebels advanced across eastern Zaire. The U.N. Human Rights Commission cited accounts of mass graves containing anything from a few hundred to 50,000 corpses.