June 8, 1997

U.S. envoy leaves New Congo with Kabila's pledges

By Matthew Tostevin

KINSHASA, Congo - U.S. envoy Bill Richardson left the Democratic Republic of the Congo Sunday after a mission largely dedicated to persuading new President Laurent Kabila to respect human rights and show concern for refugees.

Richardson, Washington's ambassador to the United Nations, said he won pledges from Kabila Saturday to assist a U.N. mission to examine evidence that his troops massacred Rwandan Hutu refugees, and to prosecute anyone who broke the law.

``Richardson pointed out that if they want a new start they have to have the kind of image that allows other governments to work with them,'' said a senior administration official with the envoy.

Kabila's takeover last month as president of Africa's third largest country, after a seven-month bush war, has been coloured by reports that his soldiers have been systematically killing ethnic Hutu refugees in areas they control.

Speaking at a transit camp for Rwandan and Burundian Hutu refugees, near the eastern city of Kisangani, Richardson said that reports of widespread killings continued.

``All of us, the new government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, its neighbors and the international community, have the responsibility to stop the killings of innocent civilians,'' Richardson said.

Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces denies massacres took place. Saturday Kabila gave the envoy his pledge that the inquiry by U.N. human rights investigators would be given every assistance.

An earlier mission to investigate reported massacres was obstructed by Kabila's soldiers -- many of whom are ethnic Tutsis whose origins lie in Rwanda.

``We are delighted that President Kabila has made this declaration and we are looking forward to its implementation on the ground, which of course is essential,'' said Pierce Gerety, U.N. regional humanitarian co-ordinator.

The refugees are the rump of over a million who fled Rwanda fearing reprisals in 1994 after Hutu hard-liners slaughtered hundreds of thousands of minority Tutsis.

The U.N. refugee agency says some 815,000 have returned home since last November, while 46,000 have been found and about 250,000 remain unaccounted for.

Tutsis from Rwanda are some of Kabila's main allies and advisers. The refugees include many civilians but also fighters of Rwanda's former Hutu army who were blamed for the genocide.

Richardson said Kabila had agreed that an advance team would arrive in Congo on June 20 so that the investigation could begin on July 7. Kabila also promised to allow aid agencies access to wherever they need to go.

``The president clearly feels more comfortable being the boss. A month ago he wouldn't have made this kind of decision without notes passing back and forth with his advisers,'' the senior American official said.

Richardson is heading a team of over a dozen experts from different branches of the U.S. administration, who will brief Kabila's government on international expectations after the overthrow of president of the former Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko.

Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck will stay in eastern Congo to make a first-hand assessment of the refugee crisis and will later move to the Rwandan capital Kigali.

Before leaving, Richardson met civic groups in the capital, where protests have erupted against Kabila's exclusion of popular opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi from his government and the presence of Rwandan Tutsis in his army.

Kabila Saturday said he would soon set up a commission to begin work on elections planned for 1999. He did not say whether the body would be independent or whether political parties, currently banned, would be able to take part.