June 9, 1997

UN sets date for Congo rights mission on refugees

By Matthew Bigg

NAIROBI, Kenya- The U.N.'s Human Rights agency said Monday it will begin investigations this month in the former Zaire into reports that victorious rebels massacred Rwandan Hutu refugees.

``The U.N.'s primary objective is to ensure an independent and thorough investigation of the grave allegations of human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,'' the statement faxed to Reuters in Nairobi said.

Human rights groups and aid agencies accuse Laurent Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) of massacring Rwandan Hutu refugees during their seven-month campaign to oust dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

A UNHR statement in Geneva said acting UNHR commissioner Ralph Zacklin and his senior staff met Monday to prepare to send an advance team to the Democratic Republic of Congo June 20.

A full team would arrive in the country July 7, according to an earlier statement.

Zaire was renamed Democratic Republic of Congo May 17 after Kabila captured the capital, Kinshasa, and Mobutu went into exile.

Monday's UNHR statement came a day after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, met President Kabila and secured his agreement to allow a full investigation.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also raised the issue of an investigation into the treatment of refugees with Kabila when they met in Zimbabwe last week. An earlier UNHR investigation in April was blocked.

``Having Kabila say to both Annan and Richardson that this (investigation) can go ahead is a breakthrough .... The devil is in the detail, but it is clear that Kabila wants this albatross taken from around his neck,'' a senior U.N. source told Reuters.

No decision had been taken on who would head the new mission, organized by Annan's office, or where it would start work, the source said.

U.N. and other aid workers are increasingly worried about thousands of missing refugees.

In one example the U.N. refugee agency said it has repatriated around 45,000 refugees by air, the majority from camps outside the northeastern city of Kisangani.

But 44,200 refugees are still missing after being driven by rebels from Biaro and Kasese camps south of Kisangani last month, according to a report by the aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

``There has been little or no trace of the estimated 150,000 further refugees last seen heading into the forests of eastern Kivu in November/December 1996,'' the report said of the Kivu region.

According to aid workers, ethnic Tutsis in Kabila's force targeted Hutu refugees whom they said posed a military threat. Rwandan Tutsi troops fighting for the Alliance held the refugees responsible for massacres during the 1994 genocide of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and some moderate Hutus in Rwanda.

The June mission follows an earlier investigation of abuses against refugees in the former Zaire headed by Roberto Garreton, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for human rights for Zaire.

The AFDL rejected Garreton's role last month and prevented his team from entering the country after the UNHCR issued a preliminary report in March.

Diplomatic sources said Kabila told Annan in Zimbabwe last week that his only condition before agreeing to an investigation was that Garreton should not be a member.

The U.N. chief was ready to accept this condition in order to get the investigation going, the sources told Reuters.