Unarmed men, women and children are being killed regularly in Rwanda, most of them in army operations against suspected Hutu rebels, the United Nations and Amnesty International said Thursday.
Amnesty International said more than 2,300 unarmed civilians are estimated to have been killed from May through July in northwestern Rwanda, where the Tutsi-led military is fighting Hutu rebels hiding in the forest.
“Contrary to what the government sometimes claims, these victims are not killed accidentally in cross-fire,” the London-based organization said. “Whole families - including many children - have been hunted down in their homes.”
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Rwanda said at least 2,022 people had been killed in escalating violence in northwestern Ruhengeri prefecture during Rwandan army operations in May and June. It did not give figures for July.
The organization said in a report that some of those killed were Hutu rebels, but many also were civilians killed in military cordon-and-search operations launched after attacks by Hutu rebels in the area.
The military operations are leading to “numerous civilian deaths, including significant numbers of the elderly, women and children in circumstances strongly suggesting that violations of human rights and humanitarian law were committed,” the report said.
Most of the victims are Hutus who had returned home since November after 3-1/2 years in refugee camps in what was eastern Zaire, now Congo.
More than 1 million Hutus fled Rwanda in mid-1994 in fear of reprisals for the Hutu-government-orchestrated slaughter of a half-million people - mostly members of the Tutsi minority - earlier that year.
Tutsi rebels ousted the Hutu government in July 1994. Last year, Rwanda helped Zairian rebels who attacked the camps and forced the refugees back across the border into Rwanda.
The government blames the increase in violence on former Hutu soldiers and militiamen who mingled with returning civilians seen as supporting the rebels.
Rwandan military spokesman Emmanuel Ndahiro called the U.N. report “unilateral and politicized.” He said the human rights organization’s sources were likely Hutu militants posing as civilians and charged the organization with using unreliable information.