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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 19:06 GMT 20:06 UK
'Massacre' in DR Congo
Boats on the River Congo in Kisangani
Decapitated bodies were pulled from Kisangani's rivers

Human rights activists say more than 200 people have been killed by special death squads sent to the Congolese city of Kisangani, following the seizure of the main radio station by self-declared army mutineers last week.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that many of the dead were innocent civilians, while the rest are policemen and army officers.

The Rwandan backed-rebel authorities who control Kisangani claim a much smaller number died and that the mutiny was organised by the government in Kinshasa.

The people of Kisangani are in mourning, many are in hiding, and people are asking themselves what provoked the horrific reprisals which followed last week's alleged army mutiny.

Mass graves

Speaking on condition of anonymity, aid workers described the gruesome task of pulling up to 150 decapitated and disembowelled bodies out of the town's rivers.

And people from one of the poorest districts, Mangobo, told of how a squad of drunk Rwandan and Congolese rebel fighters fired indiscriminately into their homes, killing about 40 innocent people.

Airport workers claim more bodies and two fresh mass graves can be found just beyond the airport runway.

Human rights workers are seeking refuge with international organisations, too scared to sleep in their own beds.

The governor of the city has blamed them for provoking the mutiny, while hardly any policemen are to be seen on the quiet and tense streets of the city.

'Death squad'

United Nations staff, independent journalists and human rights activists say the police and army officers were the main victims of the reprisals.

Kisangani has already been ravaged by the civil war

Their mutilated bodies are still floating to the surface of the two rivers which pass through Kisangani.

The killers - said by eyewitnesses to be a death squad known as the Amazulu - had hoped the waters had washed the bodies and the evidence of their actions safely out of Kisangani.

Coup 'staged'

Their reprisals followed the seizure of the city's radio station by a small group of soldiers on the morning of 14 May.

They had claimed to be mutineers and called on the civilian population to kill any Rwandans they could find.

More than 1,000 people rallied to their call and five people were murdered.

But two hours later the mutineers disappeared without a fight, prompting most people in the city to claim it was a staged operation to flush out disloyal soldiers and policemen and justify the campaign of terror which followed and is still going on.

The rebel authorities say only 39 people were killed and that the mutiny was organised by the Kinshasa government.

The BBC's Mark Dummett
"People were called out to kill"
Father Guy Verheagen, Jesuit Priest, Focus on Africa
"A pick-up drove through the parish and periodically they were machine-gunning people"

Key stories


See also:

24 May 02 | Africa
21 May 02 | Africa
17 May 02 | Africa
15 May 02 | Africa
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