April 23, 1997

Annan ``appalled by inhumanity'' of Zaire rebels

By Anthony Goodman

UNITED NATIONS- Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday he was ``shocked and appalled by the inhumanity'' of the followers of Zaire rebel leader Laurent Kabila in preventing aid from reaching up to 100,000 refugees in the east of the country.

``Assistance is being denied to the 80,000 to 100,000 refugees in the Kisangani area. Promises have been made to the humanitarian agencies which have not been met, and these people are in deplorable conditions,'' he told reporters after briefing the Security Council on the crisis in the Great Lakes region of central Africa.

``I am shocked and appalled by the inhumanity of those who control eastern Zaire to these refugees, most of whom are innocent,'' Annan said in one of his sharpest comments on the situation. He was alluding to the fact that most of the refugees were Rwandan Hutus who fled their country after the 1994 massacre of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu troops and militia.

Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo/Zaire, which threatens to topple the government of President Mobutu Sese Seko, is Tutsi-dominated.

``I have therefore appealed to the international community to work with me in pressing Kabila and those in the region who back him, to push him to allow assistance to the refugees,'' Annan said.

``I do not think the international community can stand by as thousands of men and women and children are starved to death. You can kill by shooting or by starvation. Killing by starvation is what is going on,'' he said.

``If Mr Kabila is in charge of his forces, he has to bring them under control. If he is not, he should take measures to control them.''

Security Council President Antonio Monteiro of Portugal expressed the council's full backing for the secretary-general and for the efforts of Mohamed Sahnoun, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity who is trying to secure a negotiated settlement.

Earlier, the Geneva-based U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, expressed ``deep concern'' over reports that Zairean rebels might have killed many of Rwandan Hutu refugees near Kisangani. ``We are hearing unconfirmed reports of large-scale killings around camps we have had no access to since last Sunday, and we are deeply concerned,'' UNHCR spokeswoman Pam O'Toole told Reuters.

She said the rebel alliance had refused permission for a plane to be sent to overfly the Kasese area, where there had been about 55,000 refugees. The agency was also being denied clearance to travel to the camps by road or across the Zaire river, she added.