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DRC-RWANDA: Hutu rebels accuse leaders of barring their repatriation

GOMA, 30 April 2004 (IRIN) - Three Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who surrendered to the Congolese army have accused leaders of their rebel group of preventing them from returning to Rwanda.

"It is difficult for anyone to escape. The rule is that they shoot you on the spot once you attempt to escape," Jean-Damascene Niyitegeka, one of the rebels, told IRIN on Thursday in the eastern town of Goma in North Kivu Province.

The three surrendered to the Congolese army after they lied to their commanders in the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) that they were going to a market.

The revelation by the three came as tension in the east increased following reports that hundreds of Rwandan troops had been seen at the village of Bunagana in North Kivu. The UN Mission in the Congo, known as MONUC, issued a statement last week saying Rwandan troops had surrounded UN peacekeepers in Bunagana and asked them to return to their base.

However, Rwanda has denied having troops in the DRC. Moreover, the chief of Bunagana Territory, Oscar Nkundakozela, and other villagers told IRIN on Thursday that they had not seen any Rwandan troops in the area.

"They [MONUC troops] have been making the mistake of referring to former RCD-Goma [Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie] soldiers as Rwandan soldiers," Nkundakozela said.

A local military official also said MONUC mistook Congolese soldiers of Rwandan origin for Rwandan troops.

"They [MONUC troops] have always mistaken every smartly dressed soldier who speaks Kinyarwanda [local language spoken in Burundi, Rwanda and parts of the DRC] for Rwandans," Col Essai Munyakazi, army commander in Bunagana, said.

A farmer in the territory, Faustin Munesero, added: "I cannot remember the last time I saw Rwandan soldiers in the area but it has been the custom to refer to Banyamulenge [Congolese of Rwandan origin] troops of RCD-Goma as Rwandan soldiers."

A Congolese military official told IRIN that Congolese soldiers had killed at least 14 Rwandan Hutu rebels in Masisi region, also in the east, during fighting on Monday and Tuesday.

Three Congolese soldiers from the former RCD-Goma died during the fighting while 12 others were seriously wounded, the army commander in the province of North Kivu, Maj David Rugayi, said.

He added that this week's fighting was the second time in two weeks that the Congolese army had engaged Hutu rebels in the area.

"The Interahamwe [Rwandan Hutu rebels] have been attacking sections of our deployment with the aim of seizing arms from us," Rugayi told reporters.

He said fighting was concentrated mainly in the areas of Kibua, Musonge, Muremure, Mitimingi Gatoboro and Bitoyi in Masisi zone. He estimated the strength of the Hutu rebels at six battalions, each made up of at least 450 combatants.

Rugayi said that Hutu rebels were armed with ammunition that included mortars, rockets and machine guns. The Congolese army also displayed landmines that had been laid by the rebels.

The Congolese army launched its first concerted assault on the rebels' positions last week.

On Wednesday, Rwanda requested MONUC to help protect its border with eastern Congo, where the Hutu rebels opposed to the administration of President Paul Kagame are based.

In a statement, the Rwandan Foreign Ministry said: "The government of the Republic of Rwanda has requested that MONUC re-deploy its forces to deter further attacks into Rwanda in order to prevent a recurrence of what happened in 1996 and 1998."

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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