DRC 1997 - Forced flight: Brutal strategy of elimination

© Kadir van Lohuizen Click on image for larger version. I cannot say that this repatriation was voluntary, because the refugees didn't really know the situation in Rwanda - when we would land in Kigali and they would see that there were only Tutsis on the ground, they were surprised and shocked.
Makeshift camps were set up in Shabunda and around Kisangani. The refugees who reached the Kisangani region in late March and early April were in an appalling condition. Diarrhoea, malnutrition, malaria, as well as severe foot and leg injuries were widespread. From early 1997 the ADFL attacked and emptied those new camps, reportedly killing thousands of people. Large numbers fled into the forest and thousands attempted to return to Rwanda on foot. Many times since October 1996, ADFL forces had prevented relief organisations from bringing humanitarian aid to the refugees. In other instances, they had clearly used humanitarian aid as a bait to force the refugees out of the forests - and eliminate them more easily. To MSF it appeared that Kabila troops were deliberately following a policy of extermination of the refugees, including women and children. According to an MSF estimation, at the end of May 1997, some 190,000 refugees had still not been localised, scattered in the forest and largely inaccessible to humanitarian organisations. Mobutu was overthrown by Kabila's forces on the 17th of May, 1997; Zaire then became the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). THE MASSACRE OF RWANDAN REFUGEES Guard "Before ADFL forces entered Shabunda area, a massive group of Rwandan refugees arrived in the village where I was living, 50 km. north of Shabunda town. "They settled in a football field; the population of the village and a missionary Father were assisting them. "Little by little, we were hearing that Kabila's troops were moving forward. One morning, several weeks after the refugees' arrival, we heard that the troops were only 30 km. away from our village; a lot of refugees left the camp, fleeing towards Shabunda, but some of them stayed in the village, hiding in the houses together with the local population. "I myself was hiding two children whose parents had fled to Shabunda - I was hiding them in my house in the forest, where we have our fields. Then Kabila's forces arrived; they started to look for refugees in all the houses and in the houses in the forest - mostly at night. A lot of people were killed. "Three days later, the military left towards Shabunda, where there was a big refugee camp. We heard from our brothers there, that a terrible massacre took place on the Ulindi bridge." © Kadir van Lohuizen Click on image for larger version. The people were living in miserable conditions. It was cold, there was almost nothing to eat and the NGOs didn't spend the night there because of the insecurity.
Logistician "In 1997, some 50,000 Rwandan refugees were located in a huge camp 7 km north of Shabunda. When Kabila forces entered the area, they started to empty the camp to flee westwards, towards Kindu; but the camp was on the other side of the Ulindi river, and the bridge between the camp and the road had been blocked. The refugees were driven back, then massacred by the military. "When I took to the road to the north two weeks later, it was strewn with dead bodies. "This episode lasted approximately three months; as and when the military caught the refugees, they gathered them together, put them in single file and drove them down to the river. Then they would stab them to death and throw them into the river. Some of the dead bodies floating on the river still had their babies on their back." Nurse "At that time I was working in Biaro refugee camp, 42 km. away from Kisangani. In the camp, there were at least ten deaths per day; the people were living in miserable conditions, it was cold, there was almost nothing to eat, and the NGOs didn't spend the night there, because of the insecurity. The Tutsis were surrounding the camp. One day, they dropped bombs on the camp; everybody fled, leaving everything behind and scattering in the equatorial forest - there were many dead. The AFDL put the cadavers into mass graves and burnt them." I myself was hiding two children whose parents had fled to Shabunda - I was hiding them in my house in the forest
THE (FORCED) REPATRIATION OF RWANDAN REFUGEES Nurse "From Biaro refugee camp, 42 km away from Kisangani, we would bring the refugees all the way to Kisangani airport for their repatriation - first by UNHCR truck, then by ferry across the Congo River, and by truck again to the airport. The refugees who were scattered in the bush were also called out of the forest; they were told that the situation was calm in Rwanda, that there were trucks waiting for them, and they were directly brought to the airport. "There, the Antonov planes were waiting for the refugees; the plane would open from the back, we would lay plastic sheeting inside, disinfect the refugees' feet before they got in, give them two blankets, a box of energy biscuits, plus a bucket if ever they had to vomit. Then we would take off to Rwanda. "I cannot say that this repatriation was voluntary, because the refugees didn't really know the situation in Rwanda - when we would land in Kigali and they would see that there were only Tutsis on the ground, they were surprised and shocked. In fact, I think these people were in danger in Rwanda; some of them were directly put in jail. One day the expatriate who was with us wanted to accompany the refugees to the camp where they were supposed to be brought, but the Rwandan Army refused - they even slapped him in front of my eyes. They surely didn't want him to see the reality." Guard "One night at around two o'clock in the morning, we found out that Lola camp was surrounded with ADFL forces; at four thirty they entered the camp. Some of the refugees were so scared of being caught, that they plunged into the latrines; others managed to flee to the forest. The humanitarian staff was held by the military - they took our walkie-talkies. Then the military gathered together the refugees they had caught and escorted them to Kisangani airport. "The people were sitting on the ground, on the tarmac; the men on one side and the women on the other side. The humanitarian staff was not allowed to talk to the people. If they saw you talking to refugees, they would give you a beating. Then the refugees were put into single file and herded onto the plane to Rwanda."