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Hutu rebels attack prison, free inmates

December 3, 1997

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) _ Hutu rebels attacked a prison in Rwanda, freeing 103 of their comrades and killing at least two soldiers, authorities said today.

About 400 rebels carried out the attack at Rwerere prison early Tuesday near Gisenyi, 60 miles northwest of Kigali on the border with Congo.

Regional police official Epimaque Ndagijimana said the army suspected rebels had the support of local residents in the attack. He offered no details, but there were indications the army launched an operation in the area to track down the attackers.

In a separate incident Monday, rebels killed 15 people at Mutura, also near Gisenyi, state-run Radio Rwanda reported.

It said assailants killed a municipal council member and seven members of his family. It quoted survivors as saying the bodies of the victims were burned in the council member’s house. Seven other people were killed the same night.

In Kigali, military spokesman Richard Sezibera refused to comment on the incidents.

The northwest has been the scene of rebel attacks and army reprisals since late last year, when authorities say former Hutu soldiers and militiamen responsible for the slaughter of a half-million people in 1994 mixed with Hutu refugees returning from neighboring Congo, Tanzania and Burundi.

Nearly 2 million people fled Rwanda in mid-1994 in fear of reprisals from Tutsi soldiers for the 90-day state-sponsored massacre of minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Since the massive return, barely a week passes without a rebel attack on a prison or a road ambush.

Rebels appear to be using attacks on prisons to free jailed comrades, many of whom have been arrested on genocide-related charges. At least 120,000 people are awaiting trial in Rwanda.

The human rights organization Amnesty International has estimated 6,000 people have been killed by both the rebels and the army since the beginning of the year.

The army says it is often impossible to distinguish between Hutu civilians and rebels, who often use settlements as hiding places where they stock up on food.

Mary Robinson, the new U.N. commissioner for human rights and the former Irish president, was expected in Kigali beginning Thursday for a three-day visit to discuss human rights.

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