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U.N. envoy demands investigation of refugee massacres in Congo

June 6, 1997

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Continued U.S. support for President Laurent Kabila’s government will depend on his willingness to clean up his human rights record and democratize Congo, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations said Friday.

Kabila’s administration, still in its infancy, already has a human rights record that worries Washington. The United States is particularly concerned about allegations that Kabila’s fighters slaughtered Rwandan refugees when they swept across the country in their war to oust dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

``We want the reports of those massacres investigated. We want those involved in these massacres to be punished,″ Ambassador Bill Richardson told reporters on arriving in the capital, Kinshasa.

Richardson planned to visit refugee areas in the east of the country Saturday after meeting with Kabila in southern Congo.

The ambassador praised Kabila’s promise to hold elections in two years and his creation of a government including representatives of various political affiliations. But the United States, he said, expects more.

``The level of American engagement is going to depend on the type of policies that are pursued by the Kabila government in the political, economic and humanitarian areas,″ Richardson said.

Kabila, who rules by decree and has banned political activity, must move more swiftly toward full democracy, he said.

The government has backed down from earlier assertions it had nothing to do with the alleged massacres of Rwandan refugees, acknowledging some may have been killed in cross fire during the civil war.

Kabila, apparently wanting to avoid spending the first months of his administration on the defensive, agreed this week to designate a Cabinet minister to deal with the United Nations on the plight of refugees in Congo.

It was far from an admission of wrongdoing, but indicated he was moving toward taking more responsibility for refugees’ well-being to secure international aid.

A delegation from the U.S. Agency for International Development arrived Tuesday to assess whether to resume its assistance program to Congo now that Mobutu’s discredited regime is gone.

Before the abrupt aid cutoff in 1991, the country formerly known as Zaire received an average of more than $40 million a year in U.S. assistance during a 15-year period, much of it in loans that have never been repaid.

Since the beginning of the year, the United Nations has sent about 225,000 Rwandan refugees back home by land and by air. Another 60 were to be flown home Friday.

Nearly all the refugees are Hutus who fled Rwanda for fear of reprisals after the 1994 slaughter there of a half-million Tutsis by militant Hutus. They have accused Kabila and his Tutsi-backed army, which was heavily backed by Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government, of targeting them.

The Rwandan connection has dogged Kabila since his army’s victorious May 17 arrival in Kinshasa, prompting opposition militants to accuse him of making the country a colony of Rwanda.

Fresh protests Friday involved supporters of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who marched through downtown chanting ``No to dictatorship, no to recolonization of our country!″

``If we owe them something for liberating us, we will pay the debt, but they must go home,″ one marcher, Panzu Sukama, said of Kabila’s Rwandan backers.

The march began with about 50 people and grew to 1,000. A truck carrying soldiers followed alongside but did not intervene despite a ban on political protests.

Tshisekedi is bitter that he was passed over when Kabila created his government, and has tried to rally support by portraying Kabila as a slave to foreign interests.

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