Refugees flee fighting in eastern Zaire
October 21, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT)
(CNN) -- An estimated quarter of a million Rwandan
refugees have abandoned their camps to flee an escalation of
fighting in eastern Zaire, the U.N. refugee agency said
The latest fighting began a few days ago when the
Banyamulenge, an ethnic Tutsi group, refused orders from
Zaire to leave the Uvira region.
On Sunday, a large, unidentified force crossed into Zaire
from Rwanda near Goma and attacked Zairian troops, relief
workers said. But a spokesman for Rwanda's Tutsi-led army
denied that the incursion took place.
"If these people (the Banyamulenge) are picking up arms and
helping themselves, that is one thing," said Maj. Wilson
Rutayisire. "But we are not involved in operations."
Representatives of the U.N. High Commission on Refugees said
they had "unconfirmed reports" of dead and wounded from the
fighting. UNHCR spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume
did confirm the death of one Zairian army officer and the
wounding of a Zairian soldier along the border.
The Uvira region is south of Goma. Aid officials said many of
the refugees appeared to be headed for poorly supplied camps
Violence in and around the camps has been on the upswing in
recent months, and hundreds have been killed in conflicts
between native Zairians and the various Hutu tribes in the
area. The fighting has forced aid agencies to withdraw their
personnel to safer areas.
The refugees encamped in the area are primarily Hutus who
fled Rwanda after the Hutu government was overthrown and
replaced by Tutsis. The Hutu-led government engaged in a
systematic genocide of minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in
1994. Some 700,000 refugees live near Zaire's border with
Reuters contributed to this report.
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