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Zairian Military Puts Rwandan Prisoners on Parade

November 4, 1996

KINSHASA, Zaire (AP) _ Zaire’s military trotted out a dozen rag-clad Rwandan prisoners on Monday, many of them young Tutsis visibly trembling from fear or hunger.

The prisoners, members of the Rwandan army captured in fighting in eastern Zaire, were first put on display for the press in the Zairian capital last week and said they had eaten little since.

``We haven’t been tortured, but we haven’t eaten in four days,″ said 1st Sgt. Amundala Kabengele, 28, a Zairian from the eastern Kivu region who married a Rwandan Tutsi and joined the Rwandan army four years ago.

``I wanted an adventure, wanted to be a revolutionary. When I was fighting I felt more like a Rwandan than a Zairian,″ he said.

Now an enemy of the state, Amundala was paraded in front of television cameras and microphones at the plush Mobutu Sese Seko Officer’s Club overlooking the Zaire River.

Zaire accuses Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government of backing the ethnic Tutsi rebels in Zaire known as the Banyamulenge, and has been battling to protect its territory for two weeks.

Reporters are banned from traveling to Kivu to witness the fighting, and military officials would not comment Monday on the reported loss of two key Kivu cities, Goma and Bukavu, to Rwandan rebels.

``We see that the international community is sad for the refugees, but they never speak of Rwanda, who attacked the refugee camps, and who caused all the trouble,″ Army Capt. Njoli Eseng’Ekeli said.

Rwanda has denied sending government troops into eastern Zaire, but Zairian officials pointed to the prisoners as proof of their claim. On display with the prisoners were military identification cards of recruits of the Rwandan army.

``They violated the rules of war because when they arrived at the border, they took off their uniforms to infiltrate the civilian population,″ said Njoli.

Indeed, the prisoners admitted they got into Zaire by posing as refugees in ragged clothes.

``The mission was to protect the Banyamulenge who were attacked by the Hutus,″ said Victor Muyaga, his eyes wide as he whispered a plea for food. ``We marched for three days without sleep and then we tried to rest. That is when the Zairian soldiers got us.″

Muyaga, 24, said he and several others were captured in Lubirizi in south Kivu and that 29 prisoners were being held in an army camp where they had not been well-fed.

Njoli denied the alleged mistreatment.

``We’re not treating them like animals,″ he said, his men guarding the prisoners with dilapidated Chinese-made automatic rifles. ``These are men and they deserve our respect.″

The capital was tense Monday, with about 200 students protesting outside the home of Prime Minister Kengo Wa Dondo to demand his resignation. The students accuse Kengo, whose mother is a Rwandan Tutsi, of not doing enough to protect Zairians from the Rwandan rebels.

The military has also accused Kengo’s administration of not giving it enough moral and financial support in eastern Zaire. With the absence of President Mobutu, who abruptly flew to southern France on Monday after three months of treatment for cancer in Switzerland, there was uneasy talk in the capital of an impending military coup.

After an emergency Cabinet session late Monday, the government announced a ban on all public demonstrations and said government troops had been ordered to shoot demonstrators caught ignoring the ban or vandalizing the homes and businesses of ethnic Tutsis in the capital.

The ban comes on the eve of planned student demonstrations Tuesday. More than 10,000 students paraded through the streets Friday, stealing cars and trucks, and trashing residences and firms belonging to ethnic Tutsis.

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