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Zairian planes bomb rebel-held town; six killed

February 17, 1997

KINSHASA, Zaire (AP) _ Government planes bombed rebel-held towns in eastern Zaire on Monday, killing six people and wounding at least 20 in the town of Bukavu, aid workers said.

A Zairian defense ministry spokesman confirmed that the government had been bombing Bukavu, Shabunda and Walikalie since this morning. The spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the attacks would ``continue and intensify″ and called on civilians living in rebel-held territory to leave.

Three jets dropped bombs on a market in Bukavu, killing five civilians and wounding many more, rebel leader Laurent Kabila said. One of the three bombs dropped failed to go off, he said.

``They are killing people very far from the front. Why?″ Kabila told The Associated Press. ``It is a terrorist action.″

``Very strong measures will be taken to deal with the situation,″ he said in Kalemie, 300 miles south of Bukavu.

Brenda Barton, a spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program, said staff in Bukavu reported that six people had been killed and 20 wounded.

``These numbers could grow,″ she said from Nairobi, Kenya. ``There’s a panic in the town.″

Kabila said the Zairian planes came from Kindu, 200 miles east of Bukavu, one of two airports in eastern Zaire controlled by government.

It was the first reported bombing of rebel towns since the rebels routed the government troops from a long swath of eastern Zaire.

The government today ruled out a cease-fire with rebels and repeated its opposition to negotiations to end the conflict.

It also accused the United Nations of overlooking what it called ``a campaign of extermination″ against Rwandan Hutu refugees on its soil. In an angry declaration, the government said the world body had ignored the plight of Zairians displaced by the fighting and of concentrating only on the problems of aid workers and Rwandan refugees.

``This discriminatory treatment is incompatible with the missions of the United Nations in general and with the UNHCR in particular,″ Foreign Minister Gerard Kamanda wa Kamanda said after meeting U.N. special envoy Mohamed Sahnoun.

Sahnoun traveled Saturday to the northwestern village of Gbadolite, the isolated jungle hideaway of Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko, presumably to discuss U.N. concerns about what it says is the blatant arming of Rwandan Hutus in the massive Tingi-Tingi camp in eastern Zaire. Sahnoun didn’t comment on the visit, but Kamanda’s statement indicated there had been little progress on either that subject or the question of negotiations.

Zairian officials have denied that they are arming the Hutu refugees and said insurgents were using the allegation as an excuse to attack the camp.

Mobutu, who has been holed up in Gbadolite recovering from surgery for prostate cancer, has refused pressure to negotiate an end to the conflict, despite the failure of a month-old army counteroffensive to win back substantial territory.

Kamanda described the rebels as ``a group of Tutsi executioners who are pursuing a campaign of extermination against Hutu refugees on Zairian soil.″

He said talks could not take place without the simultaneous departure of all foreign troops from Zaire.

Mobutu says the Tutsi-led governments of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi provide rebel leader Kabila with men, machines and weapons as part of a plan to wipe out the majority Hutus, who have traditionally been supported by Zaire’s government. The three countries deny the allegations.

Kamanda called on the U.N. Security Council to publicly condemn Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi; to order the expulsion of soldiers from those countries that Zaire says are fighting alongside the rebels; to ``take appropriate measures to put an end to the extermination of Hutu refugees″ and to take measures to get all the refugees back home.

Most of the refugees in Zaire are Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994, fearing reprisals after massacres of a half-million Tutsis. Many of the fighters taking shelter in the camps took part in the genocide.

Kabila launched the rebellion in September after Zaire threatened to expel Tutsis who had lived for decades in eastern Zaire.

The rebellion has spread widely since then. Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire has captured a 900-mile strip of eastern Zaire in its campaign to oust Mobutu, whose 31 years in power have left mineral-rich Zaire among the world’s poorest countries.

Over the weekend, Kabila accused Zaire of flying arms into the Tingi-Tingi refugee camp, 50 miles northwest of Amisi, to prepare Rwandan Hutus there for battle against his rebels.

Kabila had initially threatened to ``hit this camp badly″ in two or three days if the Zaire government didn’t stop the arms supplies. However, he said Sunday he would delay action to give the UNHCR time to figure out how to separate the armed men from bona fide refugees in the camp of 150,000 people.

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