Zaire, Rwanda edge closer to war
October 30, 1996
Web posted at: 12:15 p.m. EST (1715 GMT)
In this story:
(CNN) -- Zaire and Rwanda moved closer to war on Wednesday
after two days of trading artillery fire across their border
and a Rwandan military operation into Zaire. "There is every
indication that we are going in that direction," Rwandan Vice
President Paul Kagame told a news conference in the capital
Pope John Paul II said he was following the plight of the
refugees in the region with "unspeakable sorrow" and called
on the world to step up its help. French President Jacques
Chirac called for an international conference on the mounting
tensions between the two countries.
Kagame said Rwanda would be forced to respond if faced with
what he termed Zairean aggression. "If Zaire brings the war
to us we shall fight Zaire ... even though we seek no war
with Zaire," said Kagame, who is also Rwanda's defense
Later, Rwandan Lt. Col. Firmin Kagame told reporters in the
border town of Cyangugu he sent "a good-sized" force of
troops into Zaire after nightfall on Tuesday in retaliation
for Zairean firing into Rwanda.
"After they hit our territory and injured and killed our
people and hit civilians we were forced to retaliate," the
Aid workers in Goma said a Zairean military base in
Rumamgabo, 35 kilometers (20 miles) to the north, was hit
with mortars and that fighting seemed to be moving towards
Katale and Kahindo camps housing more than 300,000 refugees.
Zaire, a large country at the heart of Africa formerly known
as the Belgian Congo, has long been in chaos, but the latest
crisis in its eastern region is seen as potentially the most
far-reaching in its 36-year history as an independent state.
President Mobutu Sese Seko, whose strongarm tactics have
helped to keep his country together, is sick in a Swiss
clinic, recovering from cancer surgery. He has not been in
Zaire for more than two months.
Deadly rivalry between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis, which
resulted in nearly one million dead in the 1994 genocide in
Rwanda, has spilled into Zaire, which is host to 1.1 million
Rwandan refugees. Many will soon run the risk of starvation
because the border between Rwanda and Zaire is closed and
food aid cannot come in, aid workers say.
About half a million of the refugees from the fighting inside
Zaire are now out of contact with U.N. agencies. "We don't
even know whether they have access to water," said U.N.
refugee agency spokesman Panos Moumtzis from the eastern
Zairean city of Goma.
At Mugunga camp near Goma, 400,000 refugees have crowded into
the huge, densely packed camp.
"I sincerely hope the international community will do all in
its power to bring help effectively to the catastrophe which
is raging," the pope told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.
"With unspeakable sorrow, I am following events in
north-eastern Zaire, where ferocious fighting and looting has
forced thousands of Rwandan and Burundian refugees,
especially the elderly, women and children, into an aimless
The fighting pits Zairean army troops against Tutsi rebels.
Zaire said the rebels are receiving support from Tutsi-led
Rwanda, but Rwanda has denied it.
Zaire has ordered the Banyamulenge fighters, as the Tutsi
rebels are known, to leave the eastern land they have
occupied for at least 200 years. The Tutsis have refused, and
last month began fighting back.
The Rwandan refugees in Zaire are members of the Hutu
faction, which perpetrated the 1994 genocide of a
half-million Tutsis. The refugees have resisted appeals from
the United Nations, regularly broadcast to them over
loudspeakers, to return to Rwanda. They say they fear for
their lives if they return.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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