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Friday, January 16, 1998 Published at 12:38 GMT


"The dead can no longer be counted"
image: [ Conflict between armed opposition groups and government forces has reached crisis point ]
Conflict between armed opposition groups and government forces has reached crisis point

Rwanda may be on the threshold of a new wave of violence after thousands of killings in recent months, warns the United Nations.

Since October 1997, armed opposition groups have carried out increasingly violent attacks in the north-western prefecture of Gisenyi.

"The dead can no longer be counted," said one resident.

The Rwandan ambassador to London, Doctor Zac Nsenga, tells the BBC's Philip Hayton about the situation in his country (1'52")
The armed groups are believed to include members of the former Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR) and Interahamwe - extremist Hutu militia who participated in the 1994 genocide.

The official Rwandese Patriotic Army is also accused of violence against civilians. During their searches for the armed groups of insurgents, RPA soldiers have burned houses and crops and carried out widespread looting.

[ image: Omar Bahket:
Omar Bahket: "1994 will look like a child's game"
Omar Bahket, the UN Representative to Rwanda, said: "The situation is very precarious. The worst case scenario is that (the events of) 1994 will look like a children's game."

Then, centuries of rivalry between the Hutu majority and their former feudal overlords, the Tutsi, exploded into a genocidal campaign during which the ruling Hutu regime systematically killed Tutsi civilians and political opponents.

Up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus are thought to have died.

The Hutu government was subsequently overthrown by an invading army dominated by Tutsis but the problems did not stop.

In December 1997, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, attacked the government of Rwanda over the army's record on human rights.

She accused the authorities of carrying out arbitrary arrests and detentions and allowing serious overcrowding in prisons - findings from her three-day fact-finding mission to Rwanda.

[ image: Colonel Kayumba Nyamwasa:
Colonel Kayumba Nyamwasa: "We have the means"
Colonel Kayumba Nyamwasa, the military Chief of Staff effectively in charge of military operations in the north-west, accepts there have been transgressions.

But he remains committed to crushing military insurgents.

He said: "We have the means. We have the will. We will kill until they (the Hutu militias) lose their appetite for war."

Throughout October, November and early December in 1997, Amnesty International received reports of killings of unarmed civilians by Hutu militia in Rwanda almost daily.

[ image: Attacks on villages and refugee camps have left thousands dead]
Attacks on villages and refugee camps have left thousands dead
On December 11, 1997, non-government organisations operating in Gisenyi, north-west Rwanda, reported killings of around 1,000 people in a Hutu attack on a refugee camp.

It was the second horrific massacre at Mudende refugee camp in Gisenyi prefecture. The figures were never confirmed by officials in the region.

In November and December, armed opposition groups freed hundreds of political prisoners from detention centres in and around Gisenyi prefecture. An unknown number of people were reported to have died during these attacks.

In early November, fighting between armed opposition groups and RPA soldiers in Matyazo secteur, Satinsyi commune, Gisenyi, lasted for three days.

[ image: Ambush attacks are commonplace]
Ambush attacks are commonplace
In order to escape the persistent violence, thousands of people have fled across the border from Rwanda into the Democratic Republic of Congo since October.

However, many are rounded up by Congolese soldiers and forced to return to Rwanda within weeks or even days.

Around 4,500 Rwandese refugees were expelled from Congo in this way between early October and early December 1997.

In December, most of the estimated 540,000 Rwandese refugees in Tanzania were also forced to return to Rwanda, following a joint statement issued by the Tanzanian Government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that all Rwandese refugees were expected to leave by December 31.

BBC Correspondent Fergal Keane says the situation in Rwanda is extremely grave (1' 47")
The inaccessibility of north-west Rwanda, where most of the killings are taking place, makes independent investigations into reported deaths difficult and time-consuming. These difficulties appear to be intensifying.


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  Internet Links

Rwanda Information Exchange Index

Amnesty 1997 Rwanda report

Amnesty Rwanda resources

Earth Action: Rwanda and Burundi

Rwandan Embassy, USA

UNHCR's Rwanda page

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