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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Rwandan army 'kill 150 rebels'

The Rwandan army says it has killed about 150 Hutu rebels in a major operation near the Congolese border in the north-west.

An army spokesman said that about 300 armed rebels - known as Interahamwe - had crossed the Congolese border on Tuesday night, and local residents alerted the army.

The Rwandan forces attacked with helicopter gunships and infantry.

They say that those insurgents who were not killed or captured were forced to flee back across the border.

The Rwandan army says a mopping up operation is now under way.

It says it has killed more than 400 Interahamwe and taken a further 150 prisoner since the rebels started trying to cross back into Rwanda two or three weeks ago.

Trap

According to Colonel Jean-Bosco Kazura about 2,000 armed rebels have now moved into Virungu National Park, which straddles the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, and is home to endangered mountain gorillas.

refugee camp
About 2m Hutus fled into DR Congo in 1994 - including the Interahamwe killers
"Yesterday evening local residents informed us that a column of Interahamwes was attempting to infiltrate the Cyanzarwe district," he told AFP news agency.

"We prepared an operation and we caught them in a trap."

The Interahamwe are viewed by the Rwandan authorities as the remaining hardcore of the force which carried out much of the mass killing during the genocide of 1994 in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died.

Since 1998, they fought alongside the Congolese army in a war against rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

Threat?

Repeated talk of the imminent disarmament of the militia groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo appears to be causing panic in the ranks of the Interahamwe.

For the past two or three weeks, they have been trying to make their way back across the border through Rwanda in considerable numbers.

And the recent fighting appears to be by far the most serious since the end of a series of rebel attacks on this part of the country that ended in 1999.

Rwandan army officers say the Interahamwe are poorly armed and pose little serious military threat.

large gorilla
Virunga National Park is home to the endangered mountain gorillas
On Tuesday, the Rwandan army said it had been fanning out across Virunga National Park to protect a group of gorillas after the remains of one of them were found cooked and half-eaten by armed rebel militiamen.

Army officer Major Andre Habyarimana said that the rebels had found themselves surrounded by government troops, and in desperation had decided to kill the gorillas for food.

He said that troops would help park rangers who already track and protect the gorillas.

Although the killing and eating of monkeys, chimpanzees and lowland gorillas is common in some parts of Africa, it is rare in Rwanda and Uganda.

Gorilla tourism is Rwanda's third highest hard currency earner after tea and coffee exports, and the government has emphasised the importance of protecting the primates.

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See also:

02 Jul 99 | Africa
Rwanda to re-open gorilla park
31 May 01 | Africa
Rwanda ex-president under arrest
17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rwanda counts its dead
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