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Soldier shows mass graves, says comrades massacred refugees

May 23, 1997

KISANGANI, Congo (AP) _ Mounds of turned red earth, reeking of death.

Scattered refugee identity cards and pieces of clothing, buzzing with flies.

A crudely made cross, and a soiled stretcher.

The macabre scene lies at the the edge of a refugee camp in the dense tropical forest of eastern Congo. In such forests, according to Rwandan Hutu refugees and aid workers, Tutsi soldiers have been killing Hutu refugees.

Access to the area is controlled by forces loyal to Congo’s new president, Laurent Kabila, which have barred aid and human rights workers trying to investigate reports of killings.

But a map volunteered by one of Kabila’s soldiers, who said he was upset by the killings, led an Associated Press photographer to apparent graves outside Biaro refugee camp, 25 miles south of Kisangani. The photographer managed to enter the area without being stopped by Kabila’s forces.

Some refugees have died of hunger and disease since an estimated 80,000 of them came to the area in March. But these graves are away from where aid agencies have conducted burials.

The soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his life, said the graves hold refugees that other soldiers buried after beating, hacking or shooting them to death.

The soldier said he volunteered the information because there was growing resentment among Congolese forces against the killings.

An attack on refugee camps by local villagers and rebel soldiers sent refugees healthy enough to walk fleeing into the forest in late April. They later began to emerge. Some 35,000 were sent home in a U.N. airlift, but tens of thousands of others are still unaccounted for. Aid workers fear many were slain.

In a report released Monday, the French aid group Doctors Without Borders said Tutsis in Kabila’s forces were intent on exterminating the Hutu refugees.

Aid workers, who requested anonymity because they want to be able to continue working in the area, have said that special units of 300 to 400 troops from the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan army were sent to kill the refugees _ a number of whom are former Rwandan Hutu army soldiers and militia responsible for the 1994 slaughter of a half-million people, most of them Rwandan Tutsis.

In a U.N. report, Secretary General Kofi Annan denounced ``a slow extermination.″ Nicholas Burns, U.S. State Department spokesman, cited ``credible evidence of massacres.″

While not directly acknowledging the killings, Kabila has said any of his soliders caught abusing human rights would be punished.

Pam O’Toole, a Geneva-based spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Kabila’s forces have denied U.N. workers access to the forests where refugees are believed to be buried.

``There were thousands of people in Kasese and Biaro (camps) who were too ill, who weren’t physically able to walk,″ O’Toole said. ``Where did they go? Their whereabouts remains a great mystery.″

Following the soldier’s map, the AP found seven irregular areas of freshly turned earth, each about 10 feet long by 10 feet wide, situated about 50 yards south of the Biaro camp.

The soldier said that between 200-600 people slain by Alliance troops were buried there. Short of digging up the graves, it was not immediately possible to confirm his claim.

The soldier said the Tutsi soldiers ``capture the refugees coming out of the woods. Sometimes they bound their hands before grouping them for execution.″

He said as many as 30 refugees were being killed daily. He said he had recently seen 43 people hacked to death one by one, to the horror of refugees waiting their turn.

He said he did not participate in the killings but instead helped remove the bodies for burning. Remains were scattered in a river, he said.

``There is much work to do _ digging up bodies and burning them. When the UN eventually comes to investigate, there will be no evidence left,″ he said.

On Saturday, Kabila’s troops entered the capital, Kinshasa, completing their eight-month drive across Africa’s third-largest nation to oust dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who fled into exile. They changed the country’s name from Zaire to Congo.

Many of the original Alliance soldiers _ especially the officers _ are Tutsis from eastern Congo or from Rwanda.

The Hutu refugees are among the 1.2 million who fled Rwanda in fear of retribution for the 1994 massacres of Tutsis in Rwanda.

At least 750,000 returned to Rwanda after Alliance forces attacked refugee camps in November. The remainder fled west with the former Rwandan soldiers and militiamen. MSF says there are at least 190,000 Rwandan refugees unaccounted for in Congo.

Refugees have their own claims of slaughter by Alliance forces.

``There have been many, many killings,″ said 24-year-old Joseph Ngoga in the Biaro camp. ``People are killed in the forest.″

Inside a makeshift field hospital, Augustine Nyamuasa, 18, held a bloody bandage to his head.

``They attacked the camp,″ he said, referring to the Alliance troops. ``I fled to the forest, but they found us. One soldier came to me with an axe in his hand and hit me in the head.″

Nyamuasa said he fainted and later managed to escape, apparently because soldiers thought he was dead. A 15-year-old boy, too frightened to give his name, said soldiers captured him in the forest.

``I was in a group that was later killed. About 50 of us ... I managed to escape through the bush, but others were killed.″

All the refugees interviewed said there were common graves beyond and around Biaro.


EDITOR’S NOTE: John Moore is an Associated Press photographer who has been reporting from the refugee camps south of Kisangani for the past month.

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