Global Policy Forum

UN Probes Massacre in Congo

Agence France Presse
May 29, 2007

The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo Monday sent investigators to a volatile region where up to 30 people were brutally killed over the weekend, as Rwandan rebels denied responsibility for the massacre. "This morning the Pakistani commander of the U.N. force in South-Kivu, General Bajwa Kamar Javed, left on a helicopter to take stock of the situation in Kaniola," and surrounding areas, the spokesman for the United Nations mission MONUC, Major Gabriel de Brosses, said. MONUC said in a statement that the assailants had killed 18 civilians, including women and children, wounded 27 and kidnapped 10 people in two villages close to Kaniola, around 50 kilometers west of Bukavu — the capital of the volatile eastern province of South-Kivu. "It seems, according to information that has yet to be confirmed, that 12 other bodies have been found in a nearby forest from where the assailants fled," MONUC said.

It blamed the killings on Rwandan Hutu rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR, or on local and foreign militias in a group called "Rasta." "All the victims were killed or wounded in their sleep ... the attackers accomplished their task with the help of axes, bayonets, knives and clubs to avoid firing firearms which could have alerted locals to their presence." The attacks overnight Saturday to Sunday were the worst in the region for more than two years. Constantin Charundagwa, a resident of Kaniola, said locals on Monday felt badly let down by both the U.N. and the army. "They roll past in their armoured vehicles here but are incapable of putting an end to the exactions and disarming the groups who are spreading terror throughout the region," he said.

According to MONUC, there are more than 10,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels in the forests and mountains of eastern DRC where they have been operating since the Hutu-led genocide of at least 800,000 mostly minority Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. Locals said the assailants were FDLR members. But the FDLR on Monday denied responsibility. "The FDLR has never attacked civilian populations," the leader of the group, Ignace Murwanashyaka, said. "We condemn these ignoble and abominable killings and we seek a probe into the identity of the perpetrators." Kaniola has for years been the target of attacks and kidnappings staged by Rwandan Hutu rebels.

MONUC said there were between 10 and 12 attackers "who were spotted at around three in the morning by a MONUC patrol" when they were entering a third village. The U.N. patrol fired on them and they fled and thereby another massacre was prevented, it said. It said the assailants left behind leaflets in the two villages saying these were revenge attacks for a joint crackdown on them launched by the Congolese army and the U.N. mission.

The incident comes after the army, backed by U.N. troops, began an offensive against rebels in the area in April in which at least one rebel camp was destroyed. France on Monday "firmly" condemned the attacks as "unacceptable violence." "We firmly condemn this attack which again hits the civilian population very badly," said foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei. "This unacceptable violence bears witness to the precarious security situation in the DRC ... and underlines the need to reform the Congolese army so that peace and security is re-established across the country."

Saturday's attack was the worst in South-Kivu since a May 23, 2005 raid, when a militia group hacked 19 civilians to death in Nindja, near Kaniola. On July 9 that year, some 40 civilians — mainly women and children — were burned to death in an attack blamed on Rwandan Hutu rebels who allegedly wanted to punish locals for backing a U.N. offensive against them.

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