GOMA/BUKAVU: EYE-WITNESS REPORT NOVEMBER 1996-JANUARY 1997
SUMMARY OF DOCUMENT
1. The majority of refugees have not returned to Rwanda. A maximum of 450,000 have returned out of a total of 1,103,000. Those who were able to return came from the camps of Mugunga and Kibumba, which housed between 300,000 and 400,000 refugees. The return was a move in a political game and the cameras of the world were invited to film this "massive return" which led to the abandonment of the projected international force.
2. The refugees are not fleeing from the fighting but
from the massacres. The operation now in progress in Zaire, is
a new genocide. There are large mass graves all round Goma
containing the remains of men, women and children. The men
have their hands tied behind their backs and a single bullet
in the head. It is estimated in Goma that several hundreds of
thousands of refugees have died since the beginning of the
conflict, some of famine and disease, others massacred.
3. The refugees are not the only ones under threat. The
Hutu population of Zaire who had nothing to do with the 1994
genocide, are also in danger. At Goma and elsewhere,
disappearances are increasing and every Hutu in a position of
importance, is on a list of wanted persons.
I have put together in this report, trustworthy accounts which I can personally vouch for. Because of the gravity of the events reported, and in order not to endanger other people's lives, it has been necessary to keep the report anonymous.
1. HOW MANY RWANDAN REFUGEES ARE STILL IN ZAIRE?Since the beginning of the conflict there has been a violent argument over the number of refugees still in Zaire. The "rebels" maintain that almost all the refugees have returned. The only ones still in Zaire are members of the old Hutu militia, the Interahamwe, the "ex-FAR", those responsible for the genocide, and these are legitimate objects of pursuit.
Kigali says that 500,000 refugees have returned.
This battle of statistics is strategic. The aim is to
forestall any possible foreign intervention on behalf of
refugees still in Zaire, and at the same time to divert to
Kigali as much aid as possible for "reconciliation".
a. Refugees in the Bukavu region: 316,000
b.Refugees in the Goma region: 715,991
c.Refugees in the Uvira region: 180,144
==> Total (Uvira, Bukavu and Goma): 1,221,483
In round figures, we may say that there were 1,220,000 refugees from Rwanda and Burundi in Zaire at the beginning of the war in October 1996.
Not knowing what has happened to the 117,000 refugees from Burundi, I speak only of the 1,103,000 Rwandan refugees.
How many have returned to Rwanda?
The only massive return took place from the camp of
Mugunga, four miles from Goma. I visited it on Wednesday 30
October, two days before the fall of Goma.
In Mugunga therefore, there were 500,000 persons, coming from the camps of Mugunga itself, Lac Vert (300,000) and Kibumba (197,000). They provided the refugees who returned on Friday 15, Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 November 1996.
I saw a fairly long column on Friday 15 November, and we estimated at Goma that 50,000 people crossed the frontier that day. I saw an extraordinary crowd on the same road the following day, and it continued throughout the day. On this Saturday 16 November, no doubt 200,000 people crossed into Rwanda. On Sunday 17, the numbers were more like those of the Friday and our estimate was again 50,000.
Altogether therefore, we estimated that between 300,000 and 350,000 refugees returned over these three days, out of the 500,000 who had been in Mugunga. Our figure corresponded with that of a well-known medical NGO.
==> Four remarks:
1. The people I saw, were ordinary peasant families. I did not see any of the middle-class families I had known in Mugunga. It is possible that these persons left, to go towards Masisi.
2. Three teachers from Goma, who fled with their families to Matanda, on the road to Masisi, when Goma fell, told me that they had seen large numbers of refugees coming from Mugunga during those days, passing by Matanda on the road to Masisi.
3. The operation "Liberation Mugunga" took place before
the cameras of the world, at the moment when plans for
international intervention were in their final stages.
In fact, the "massive return of refugees" put a stop to the idea of military intervention.
4. In the immense crowd of people who crossed the
frontier, there were very few from Katale and Kahindo, and
those there, were all in the party on Sunday. They were
greatly weakened by the long march and were highly vulnerable.
During the next weeks, comparatively small numbers of people were escorted by the UNHCR to the frontiers of Bukavu (Ruzizi) and Goma (Grande Barriere). They were for the most part women, children and old men. There were said to be 80,000 altogether.
It follows that a maximum of 450,000 refugees returned to Rwanda out of a total of 1,103,000.
653,000 therefore have not returned and are still in Zaire. It seems that between 200,000 and 250,000 finally reached the camps of Ntingi-Ntingi, Amisi and Shabunda.
Where then are the remaining 400,000, as well as the 117,000 from Burundi?
2. ARE THE RWANDAN REFUGEES FLEEING FROM THE FIGHTING OR FROM MASSACRES?If it was only a question of the war, the Rwandan refugees would have no more reason to flee than would the Zairian population. The truth is, that what the Rwandan Hutu are fleeing from are massacres by the Tutsi "rebels". For whom they are legitimate military targets.
The arguments of the rebels is that the refugees who have not returned to Rwanda are mostly responsible for the genocide. It is clear that those who took part in the 1994 genocide could not return to Rwanda, but many innocent people could not return either. The UNHCR has estimated that 7% of the refugees took part in the killings. Educated people, those in the administration, persons of some substance, especially in the towns, all these are afraid of returning.
Many more have been prevented from returning by the Interahamwe who wish to use them as a shield. They are in effect hostages, subjected to fear and even physical abuse in the camps. Calling every Hutu refugee a as having taken part in the genocide, is intended to justify the use of force against the Hutu, even going as far as elimination, in the eyes of international public opinion as well as in those of the rebel troops themselves. During the 1994 genocide, the Interahamwe had used a similar tactic, calling the Tutsi "Inyenzi" -- cockroaches, so that the killings could be carried out with an easy conscience.
Large numbers of mass graves suggest a wish to have done with the refugees once and for all. This was a military objective from the beginning of the war. These mass graves are everywhere, but they are always hidden and very difficult to approach. To be found by the rebels wandering about these zones, means immediate death.
I saw about an hour-and a half's walk above Mugunga, I saw three mass graves containing about twelve, ten and thirty corpses respectively of men and women, some of the latter with babies on their backs. There were also old men and children. All had been shot in the head, infants included.
At the end of the camp at Kibumba, on the Rwandan frontier, I saw in the little wood which marks the frontier, three stacks of between fifty and a hundred skeletons. These too had bullet holes in the head. A methodical search would no doubt reveal many more such sites, but no one could risk remaining too long in such a dangerous place.
On 26 November, on the path leading down from the forest above Sake, I found a dying man, abandoned on a makeshift stretcher. The place is five days' walk from the camp of Kahindo, on the Rutshuru road. The man had deep machete wounds in the head, through one of which, one could see the brain. We asked him who had done this. "It was the Great Man", he replied. We asked him where were the members of his family, and he said that his wife and all his children had been killed with machetes some days before in the forest by rebels who wanted to prevent them from getting back to Mugunga. His brothers, themselves exhausted, had been no longer able to carry the stretcher and had to leave him. Further up, we found the remains of a camp which had been hastily abandoned. There was the body of a pregnant woman there with a bullet in the head. She had been unable to flee.
These bodies were scattered along the path which leads down from Kahindo and Katale. On 24 December, two rebels seized two young Zairian Hutus from the village of R. The young men returned two days later, after having been severely tortured. They now act as guides to a heavily-armed band of between seventy and a hundred Tutsi rebels, who have a lorry and a pickup, leading them to the sites of three camps hidden in the forest. "They killed them all, absolutely all, these refugees, not one escaped", one of these "guides" told me in Swahili., The camps each contained about a hundred persons.
Many refugees from Katale are still hiding in the forest of Virunga Park, blocked at the entry and exit by mass graves and military operations. One of these operations took place on 30 January 1996. 250 military "rebels" were installed in the old Katale camp to clean it up.
It is difficult to estimate how many refugees are still hiding there, but between Katale and Kahindo, there were more than 300,000 refugees, of whom between 30,000 and 60,000 have been able to return to Rwanda.
Many die in the forest, where they live for months on plants and rainwater, when it rains. We found in this forest a young woman completely exhausted and dehydrated. In spite of our efforts, she died in our arms. Higher up, in a hut made of branches, there was the body of a woman who died of exhaustion while giving birth. At her feet was the body of a four-year- old child, no doubt her child, left to die.
Helping these people is regarded by the rebels as helping
the enemy, as giving active support to the Interahamwe. It has
been said that the refugees in the Zairian forests are, after
all, in their natural habitat. After scores of visits, I am
obliged to say that such statements are false. The forests
round Goma are on volcanic soil. There are no springs, no
game, no fruits, no food of any kind. To oblige the refugees
to remain in the forest, is to condemn them to death. It is
what Mr.Boutros Gali called "genocide by starvation".
When one crosses the little forest after Munigi on the road between Kibumba and Rutshuru, one has to close all the windows of the vehicle to keep out the terrible smell of decomposition. The weeks go by, but the smell remains undiminished, as it is being continually fed with fresh corpses. Refugees who risked walking along this road to return to Rwanda, were diverted into the forest and killed. There are always soldiers on patrol.
A Tutsi rebel made no attempt to hide the reality. At a routine road-block at Rumangabo, he told me on 19 December, "These refugees are a plague. If I come across them in the bush, I must eliminate them".
On the same day, 19 December, on the road from Tongo and
going towards Kalongera, our vehicle was following a small
lorry carrying a score of refugees, with four armed rebels.
The refugees were crying and weeping. There is a fork in the
road where the old road to the right has been cut by a lava
flow. It is now a cul-de-sac. The lorry took this way, while
we went left along the tarmac road between Rutshuru and Goma.
One can approach the camp of Katale at the level of the
small river on the left. One can then pass the camp itself and
after walking for about half-an-hour towards the west, enter
the bush. It was here that I saw several large mass graves.
Our guide, a refugee, told us that there were two other mass graves in the neighbourhood, while others, containing "thousands of bodies", were several hours walk further into the forest. He offered to take us there, but we felt unable to accept, for security reasons.
On the lava plain behind the camps of Katale and Kahindo leading west, away from Rwanda, there are thousands of skeletons, cut down with machine guns as they fled. The corpses were covered with plastic sheets and then burned in an attempt to dispose of the remains.
I met in the hospital a refugee being treated for six bullet-wounds in the back. He had been left for dead among the corpses, but had somehow managed to climb into an organism's vehicle and was evacuated towards Goma. He said that the rebel Tutsi had encircled his area of the camp of Katale. They separated men and women, made them lie face down, and opened fire with machine-guns. He could not say how many died, but such an area in the camps could include two or three thousand refugees. This happened at the beginning of November.
I also met at Mugunga a man who had kept a little diary
of his wanderings from the time of the attack on the camp at
Katale to that on Mugunga. This record was also collected by a
well-known medical NGO. The man describes how they left Katale
amid heavy firing from light and heavy arms, and fled towards
the forest in a panic. There, more rebels were waiting. They
turned back towards Katale, and there were the rebels again.
Five hours walk above Mugunga towards the north, in the
direction of Katale through the forest, behind the volcano
Nyaragongo, there was a small camp containing fifty refugees.
At Tongo, I met a peasant who told me that a month before all these events started, there were already Tutsi soldiers in Tongo, and they were paying peasants in American dollars to dig deep ditches well hidden in the bush.
In a Goma dispensary, I met a girl of twelve suffering from severe burns down half of her body. She had come from Bukavu. As they fled, they were attacked. She and her mother were rolled in plastic sheets which were set on fire. Her mother died.
On 24 December, I met in Goma a young Rwandan man from the Idjwi camps. His actual camp was Bugarula and the people tried to escape by canoe across the Lake to reach the slopes of Nyabibwe. They were too late. The rebels were waiting for them. They drowned with their own hands his parents, brothers and sisters. He alone escaped and was able to swim back and reach Goma. He seems now to have returned to Rwanda.
We helped to direct refugees from Bukavu travelling from Sake to Goma. Along with all other organisms present, we were struck by the fact all the refugees were either old men, women or girls. It was later explained to me at Nyabibwe, that the rebels carried out a selection before allowing the refugees to come out of the forest. Every boy of ten years or more was killed. Only women and old men were allowed to pass. This was confirmed by Canal Afrique on 23 January. Only 30% of the refugees who returned to Rwanda were men, and they were old.
At the beginning of November at Burhale, in the region of Bukavu, Father Jean-Claude Buhandwa, a young Mushi priest ordained in August of this year, was cut down when he tried to interpose himself between the rebels and a group of refugees, most of them families who had fled from the camp of Kashusha and were making for Ngweshe. The Red Cross counted more than 600 victims at this spot, but another priest who accompanied his confrere and managed to hide in a banana-plantation, declared that more than 2,000 were killed. It should be added that peasants were obliged to bury in hastily-dug graves, as many bodies as possible before the Red Cross arrived.
I could multiply the examples. I have restricted myself to events concerning which we have eye-witnesses. But I have never had access to the whole zone of Masisi, nor to that of Walikale. The rebels will not allow foreigners into these areas, but the reports reaching us suggest that there too, there is a deliberate policy of finishing off the refugees.
It seems that the biggest massacres took place in the zone of Walikale where, according to a trustworthy witness, "tens of thousands of refugees have been eliminated".
One is struck by the similarity of all these stories. From north to south, the same methods have been systematically planned and executed.
On the day after the fall of Goma, the offices of the UNHCR and of the Development Bank of the Great Lakes were raided, and all sensitive material was removed, especially computer material. All the lists of refugees were taken off towards Gisenyi, along with confidential information which the refugees had agreed to supply, in order to continue to receive food rations.
On 20 December 1996, I spoke to a leading official of the
UNHCR and reproached him for not denouncing the killings. He
replied: "We know that refugees are being killed by tens of
thousands in the forests, but what can we do? We are not an
army. It is for the intervention force to act".
This may be the real explanation why, of the 653,000 Rwandan refugees who have not returned home, between 200,000 and 250,000 are at Tingi-Tingi, Amisi and Shabunda. Again I do not speak of the 117,000 refugees from Burundi.
With the inexorable advance of the rebel troops towards
Lubutu, it is becoming more and more probable that the number
of refugees will be swelled still further, by people from the
towns of Shabunda, already fallen today, and Tingi-Tingi.
Will the problem of the 1994 genocide then be finally settled?
The refugees who are being massacred, are not the killers. They are families who, hoping to find safety in numbers, flee in groups for the sake of their children.
3. THE HUTU POPULATION OF ZAIRE UNDER THREATImmediately after their entry into Goma on 1 November 1996, the Tutsi troops set about looking for Zairian soldiers and Hutu refugees. Every refugee was called "Interahamwe" and was liable to be killed.
This scenario rapidly became farcical. A Zairian Hutu family which I knew well, had to get rid of a child of eight who had been adopted by the family when he was six, at the time of the exodus of Rwandans in 1994. Two rebel soldiers came to the family and accused it of harbouring an Interahamwe.
Very soon, too, the Zairian Hutu, themselves, became targets. These were not regarded as Interahamwe but as "Magrivi", members of a Hutu association on the pattern of the different tribal friendly associations, which were established after the National Conference. These associations were often the vehicles of tribal ideas, especially since the tensions in Rwanda and the subsequent war.
The Hutu community in North Kivu, in which Goma is situated, is estimated at between 500,000 and 700,000. There have been many disappearances, especially from Goma itself.
In Goma, the ones in particular danger, are those who have studied or have some property or influence.
Rafael M. is on the list of wanted persons because he has contacts in Europe where he studied. These contacts make him dangerous, so he must be disposed of. When he could not be found, the rebels began to look for his wife. She was hidden by friends, but for how long?
R. is an elderly Hutu who used to be a Headmaster at
Birambizo, in Masisi. He lived in the Mabanga quarter of Goma.
Armed soldiers came looking for him three times in daylight.
Seven others, heavily armed, knocked on his door at midnight
on 17 December and called out his name. He refused to respond
and kept his children quiet. Angered at their failure, the
soldiers turned on his neighbour, a young Hutu of nineteen who
kept a little shop. They sacked the shop and shot the young
man in the head. R. has now moved house and lives in fear.
Many people have disappeared during the night, some in daylight. Most of them are never seen again but some return after having been beaten and warned. Some are picked up and released and then picked up again, this time never to be seen again. Witnesses on the frontier speak of many vehicles travelling towards Rwanda at night, when the frontiers are closed. Some Hutu are killed in Zaire itself, probably on the road to Rutshuru, on either side of the road in the bush of Munigi.
These disappearances have assumed particularly
disquieting proportions in recent weeks. This is especially so
in Goma and Rutshuru, but the same thing is happening in
Bukavu also, where the remaining Hutu who have gone into
hiding, are targeted, whether they are Rwandan or Zairian.
The Hutu are being hunted down in the towns, but the really massive hunt is taking place in Masisi where there is a substantial Hutu community, easily identifiable because its members tend to live together in villages. There has been war in Masisi since the exodus from Rwanda in 1994, when the Hutu turned on the local Tutsi and the Hunde. There were massacres, as at Mokoto in April 1996, and finally all the Tutsi left.
The rebels have responded by systematic massacres on their own. A band came from Rwanda to Jomba and killed everyone they came across. These were mostly mothers and children, the young people having fled. Among those murdered was the mother and little sister of R. The wave of summary executions went on for about three weeks from the beginning of November. The parish priest, well known as a moderate man, was picked up with five religious sisters in charge of the secondary institute in Jomba. All were seen being taken towards the frontier with Uganda at Bonagana. They were never seen again.
In the village of Chanzu, in the Jomba area, the people were called to a political meeting to hear the programme of the new government. Once the meeting had begun, the doors were closed and the people were all killed with blows on the head from the small Rwanda hoe (agafuni). Neighbouring villagers counted 207 dead. The bodies were thrown head first into common graves or into latrines.
The same thing happened in all the sectors of Masisi, Matanda, Nyakariba, Birambizo, Katwe, Bibwe, Rutshuru, Rugari. At Birambizo, a rebel soldier was injured by a Hutu fighter at the beginning of January. Soldiers encircled the village and assembled the whole population on the square in front of the church. The children were then separated from their parents and killed in front of them, the bodies being thrown behind the church. Parents had to pay three dollars to recover a body for burial. Most of the peasants could not find the money.
In a number of places the massacres have been accompanied by acts of sacrilege. Two young Hutu priests were killed at Nyakariba on 24 December 1996, and during the following days, rebels were seen walking about in their albs. The tabernacle at Jomba was machine-gunned. Similar tales have come from Bukavu and Panzi.
Everywhere, religious and their families are especially targeted, because they are regarded as having influence in society. Their names are high on the lists which circulate in Goma. In this way, a religious sister lost eighteen members of her family at Matanda and another fifteen at Nyakariba. The existence of these lists is confirmed by those close to the new regime in Goma. It was communicated to me in a confidential conversation on 23 January.
This cleansing is more than the kind of settling of accounts, with which we are familiar in all wars, when the victors spend their first days eliminating their former adversaries. The Hutus are systematically targeted, both moderates and extremists, as the lists make clear.
4. CONCLUSION: HOW IS THE SILENCE OF THE MEDIA TO BE EXPLAINED?The reader may well wonder why so few of the events reported here find their way into the international press. There are a number of reasons for this silence.
1. The press regarded the refugee problem as settled after the massive return from Mugunga on 15,16 and 17 November. Very few journalists were found in Goma or Bukavu after that event. The focus of interest shifted to Tanzania where another massive return was in preparation.
Media competition means that different organs seek to outdo each other in issuing figures, some of which are pure fantasy. G.Perez, for example, of Radio France Internationale, spoke of 400,000 refugees waiting in town on the evening of Saturday 15 to cross the frontier the following day. This figure is twice the total population of the town. I was present myself and put the number at not more than 25000.
2.The rebels believe, with good reasons, that the war is being fought as much in the media as on the battlefield, for it is in Europe and North America, that the alliances decisive for military success, have to be formed. Access to sensitive zones is strictly controlled.
On Friday 1 November when the battle was raging in Goma, Major David, of the rebel troops, ordered all journalists and members of organisms to leave the quarters of the UNHCR where they had gathered.
Very few expatriates remained in Goma. The town was strewn with corpses. More than 2,500 were counted. Meanwhile all the journalists were on the frontier and were forbidden to return until the bodies had been buried, an operation that took four days. They all returned, headed by CNN, and queued up to film a decomposing body in military uniform, left at the Signers Roundabout.
The road to Mugunga was closed until the "liberation" of the camp when, as we have seen, the world's cameras were invited.
The road to Rutshuru was closed to all westerners until 6 December 1996, although Zairians were allowed to pass. Access to the camps of Kibumba, Katale and Kahindo, containing some 500,000 refugees is along this road. It is known that these camps were bombarded, but no one knows what has happened to the refugees in Katale and Kahindo. No journalists has been allowed to go beyond Sake to get to Masisi or Walikale. These are the roads taken by the refugees making for Kisangani.
All that the journalists can do is to broadcast literally official communiques, issued by the military headquarters. We learned during the Gulf War that a twentieth-century war must be fought above all in the media. The rebels distribute very well-composed press releases, full of certified statistics.
3. Eye-witnesses will not speak, except under cover of anonymity. Otherwise, they risk death or expulsion and endanger the people on the spot.
Journalists who try and get information outside official channels, know that they are being watched, and they submit their articles to the new authorities for approval before publication. They already run great dangers by their simple presence in such situations. It is very difficult to obtain crucial information from the population. If journalists try to interview someone in a crowd in public, there is always someone listening in. The people know it and keep their mouths shut.
All this makes the collection of objective information very difficult. In spite of the extreme gravity of the situation, witnesses have to be very careful what they say.
I was surprised to learn, through top-level political contacts in Europe, that governments are well aware of the real situation, even if not always of the extent of the atrocities.
In mid-December, General Baril declared at Sake that there was no longer a single Rwandan refugee left in Zaire. Who could possibly believe him, when he had just spent half a day on the road from Masisi in a rebel officer's car? Did he not meet a single refugee on that notorious road? It was this declaration which sealed the fate of the Multinational Force and led to thousands of deaths. How could the General not have known the reality?
Diplomatic considerations and the silence of the media combine to produce inaction.
Everyone knows what is happening, but no one will say.
Meanwhile, the refugees are dying, women and children first.
Composed in Europe on 19 February 1997
PeaceLink for Africa Campaign