Associated Press

September 24, 1997

Amnesty: 6,000 Rwandans Killed

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- About 6,000 people -- most of them unarmed civilians -- have died as Hutus attempt to retake parts of Rwanda, and many were victims of reprisals by the Tutsi-led army, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

The London-based human rights group urged the United States and South Africa to reconsider military assistance to the Rwandan army.

Amnesty said it calculated the figure of 6,000 deaths based on reports from survivors, witnesses and the families of victims, some of whom are in exile.

It was impossible to confirm the figure independently. Carina Tertsakian, who was in charge of the research, said in a telephone interview that the last time Amnesty visited Rwanda was in February, and that fresh information was provided through secondary channels.

Several human rights groups, including the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights, have questioned U.S. military assistance to Rwanda.

Following the 1994 genocide in which at least 500,000 minority Tutsis were killed by Rwanda's Hutu-led government, the U.S. military provided assistance to the new Tutsi-led Rwandan army in mine-clearing, military management, disaster relief, soldier team development and military and civilian justice. Some human rights organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights, claim the Rwandans also were trained in counterinsurgency.

South Africa has been Rwanda's main weapons supplier.

Both countries were among the first to help Rwanda professionalize the former Tutsi guerrilla army. The Tutsis won power in mid-1994 after they ousted the extremist Hutu government that was responsible for the genocide.

More than 1 million Hutu refugees, including soldiers and militiamen involved in the killings, fled to neighboring countries in fear of reprisals. They returned to their central African country late last year after Rwanda-backed Congolese rebels attacked the refugee camps and scattered the former government soldiers.

Authorities say Hutu rebels bent on destabilizing the country have mixed with returning civilians or continue to attack from Congo, Rwanda's western neighbor. The violence has been limited to the northwest.

Amnesty said thousands of people, including children and the elderly, have been shot dead during military operations following rebel attacks.

On Aug. 8, security forces reportedly killed several hundred people at a busy market near the northwestern town of Gisenyi. And the following day, at least 95 detainees, most of them Hutu genocide suspects awaiting trials, were killed by soldiers in a northwestern prison, the report said.

No comment from Rwandan authorities was immediately available.

Last month, military prosecutor Andrew Rwigamba said 29 soldiers had been arrested for killing civilians and looting their homes. It wasn't clear how many have been charged.

Defense Minister Paul Kagame has said the violence in northwestern Rwanda has been taken out of context and could not be portrayed in purely human rights terms because that part of the country is a de-facto battle zone.

In July, Rwanda's interior minister, Abdul Kaarim Harelimana, admitted that 300 civilians had been killed since the start of the year in the northwest, mostly because they were with the rebels targeted by the army. About 1,800 rebels and 90 soldiers had been killed, he said.

On Aug. 22, Hutu rebels attacked a camp for Tutsi refugees near Gisenyi, killing 148. Amnesty said the following day, an unknown number of people, mainly Hutus, were killed in reprisal.