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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
When gorillas encounter guerrillas

By Helen Vesperini from eastern DR Congo

When Innocent Kagango saw his fellow Interahamwe militiamen eat gorilla meat he was so shocked he ran away and handed himself over to the Rwandan military.


I thought if they can eat a gorilla maybe they can eat me and so I ran away

Innocent Kagango
"I heard the shots, then I saw them with the dead gorilla and I saw them eating the meat and I said 'How can you eat an old man like that?' And then I thought if they can eat a gorilla maybe they can eat me and so I ran away."

He says the same group of militiamen killed a second mountain gorilla for food the next day.

Conservationists in the Virunga National Park have so far only found the remains of one animal.

There are only some 600 mountain gorillas left in the world. They are found on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes which straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo where they live in bamboo thickets.

The Interahamwe are the Rwandan militia who carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Recruits

Many of those fighting in their ranks today are not necessarily perpetrators of the genocide - many are boys who were recruited in the refugee camps in what was eastern Zaire.


The Rwandan army say they are trying to protect the endangered gorillas
Those captured in the past two weeks - be it on the Rwandan or the Congolese side of the border - say their commanders told them to attack Rwanda.

"They told us to come back to Rwanda and overthrow [Rwandan President Paul] Kagame," said one captured Interahamwe who seemed unprepared for the sort of military resistance he had encountered even before arriving at the border.

Many of those captured seem to have become separated from their groups. Oscar is 26. He looks as if he has been sleeping rough for a long time.

Knotted around his waist is a filthy towel. In an equally filthy bundle he carries everything he needs to survive, except a weapon.

In the bundle Oscar has beans tied up in a piece of cloth, a pan, plastic sheeting, salt, soap, matches and, hidden in the bottom, about 100 bullets which he sullenly identifies as being for a Kalashnikov.

Captured

Many armed fighters have been killed in skirmishes with the Rwandan military in the past two weeks. Those who are captured are taken on community awareness roadshows.

The governor of Congo's North Kivu province, accompanied by the Rwandan military, takes the captured militia around the villages of the region where they hold rallies aimed at ensuring the local population does not shelter militia.

The captured youths are shown to villagers and told to introduce themselves.

One boy recounted how he had been reunited with his brother - a member of the former Rwandan army who had been rehabilitated and integrated into the current Rwandan army.

Another was astonished to find he had not been killed.

Some have spent nearly all the childhood they remember in refugee camps or fighting.

Ntamushobora Ntaugirira Abinto looks 11 or 12 but says he is 15. He has been roaming around in eastern Congo since 1994.

The official Rwandan line is that such children will be sent back to school.

Privately, however, commanders admit that a child who has spent years fighting cannot just be sent to the local school overnight.

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See also:

07 Jun 01 | Africa
Rwandan army 'kill 150 rebels'
27 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Gorillas do well despite war
22 Nov 99 | Africa
Protecting gorillas in a war zone
18 May 01 | Africa
Congo gorilla numbers halved
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