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Wednesday, January 6, 1999 Published at 12:36 GMT

World: Africa

Congo rebels investigate massacre allegations

Rebel leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo are reported to have ordered an investigation into an alleged massacre of up to 500 civilians, many of them women and children, over the New Year.

Father Giulio Albanese of Misna: This is not the first masssacre of civlians
"If it is true, then those responsible will be punished ...but we cannot say if it is true or not," rebel leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba told reporters.

The Roman Catholic missionary news agency, Misna, based in Rome, said the killings took place at the village of Mokobola, in the east of the country. It said entire families had been slaughtered, by machete or gun over a three-day period.

'Act of retaliation'

[ image:  ]
Rwandan soldiers, who support the rebels, are also reported to have taken part.

Misna editor, Father Giulio Albanese, told the BBC he believed the massacre was "an act of retaliation against the civilian population" for their support of the Mai Mai - a group Congolese nationalist partisans supported by President Laurent Kabila who are fighting the Tutsi rebels known as the Banyamulenge.

[ image: The conflict in DR Congo has forced thousands to flee]
The conflict in DR Congo has forced thousands to flee
The Mai Mai are reported to have launched an attack on rebels the day before the massacre in which several Tutsi soldiers had been killed.

Earlier rebel forces around the rebel stronghold of Goma denied that any killings had taken place. A local commander, Jonas Padiri, said the area was quiet and there had been no problems.

State of fear

BBC Correspondent Eileen Whelan: Rebels will only negotiate directly with the president
Misna, which reports for all 40 Catholic missionary orders working in Africa, said that the commander of the soldiers who carried out the massacre was a Rwandan known locally as Shetani, meaning the Devil.

Around 350 people were killed in a similar reprisal attack in the same area last August.

Father Albanese, said that tension was still high in the area and the civil population was living in great fear. He said the news had taken so long to emerge because people who break such information run the risk of being killed.

Congolese rebels launched an offensive in the east last August in an effort to topple President Kabila. They have tried to win the support of the Mai Mai traditional warriors, but have largely failed with frquent fighting between the Mai Mai and Tutsi rebels.

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