Associated Press

May 31, 1997

BOSTON (AP) -- Rebel troops marching across Congo during a swift eight-month takeover hunted down and slaughtered hundreds of refugees, burying them in mass graves, The Boston Sunday Globe reported.

The newspaper detailed mass killings in the western towns of Wendjie and Mbandaka, saying body parts remained in swamps and streams where thousands of refugees tried to flee troops led by then-rebel leader Laurent Kabila. Kabila has since declared himself president of the country, which was formerly known as Zaire.

The Associated Press on May 22 reported evidence of a similar massacre in Kisangani, in eastern Congo. A map volunteered by one of Kabila's soldiers led an AP photographer to a burial ground, where the soldier said between 200 and 600 refugees were buried.

Officials from Kabila's government denied the growing evidence that rebels, most of whom are Tutsis, slaughtered scores of Hutu refugees who had fled neighboring Rwanda to escape reprisal killings by Tutsis there.

``No one is going around killing refugees, it's absurd,'' Mwenze Kongolo, Congo's justice minister, told the Globe. ``These relief groups tell such big lies. And if they keep telling these lies, we will expel them.''

The Globe said the first refugees arrived in the dilapidated port of Mbandaka on the Congo River in early May. Soon there were thousands, walking nearly 1,000 miles from the Rwandan border as they fled rebels who soon toppled the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko and took control.

But the great river marked the end of hope for the refugees. On May 13, the Globe said, hundreds of unarmed men, women and children were clubbed, bayoneted or shot to death by Kabila's forces, according to European missionaries, local Red Cross workers and villagers who either witnessed the slaughter or helped bury the victims

Most of the bodies were dumped into the river, but at least 140 victims were buried in mass graves near Wendjie, a crossroads settlement about 12 miles south of Mbandaka, the Globe said.

Human ribs jutted from a stagnant bog, while a corpse floated face down in a stream, the newspaper reported. The body of a little girl lay curled beside the bamboo thicket, her face covered with a tattered piece of blanket.

``The alliance fighters told us they only killed former soldiers guilty of murdering many Tutsi people in Rwanda,'' an unidentified Red Cross worker told a Globe reporter led to one of the gravesites. ``Yet with my own hands, I buried small children whose heads were crushed by rifle butts. Buried those poor little ones and women, too.''

Kabila's government has prevented Western relief workers and United Nations officials from inspecting sites where massacres are believed to have taken place.

``The situation is ominous and becoming more ominous,'' Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the Geneva-based UN High Commission for Refugees, told the Globe. ``We have no access to huge areas of Zaire. We are very, very alarmed.''

Rwandans who have escaped the area tell stories of mass executions and bodies incinerated in fire pits, said a Western relief worker, who cautioned that the tales have not been verified.

Kongolo insisted the vast majority of refugees are young, fit Rwandan Hutu males who participated in the murderous pogroms launched against Rwandan Tutsis by that country's military and government in 1994. More than half a million people were killed.

``We are killing only the armed ones who are fighting us,'' Kongolo said.