A United Nations team finally arrives in Mbandaka, Congo, to investigate alleged massacres of refugees

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Monday, 8 December 1997

Following the Rwandan genocide of 1994, thousands of Hutu refugees fled to the neighboring Congo (DRC), previously known as Zaire. This was in an attempt to escape the vengeance of many surviving Tutsi's whose families had been murdered by Hutu extremists during the genocide. Living amongst these refugees in the eastern Congo were the Hutu militiamen that carried out the genocide in Rwanda.

During this time, the rebel forces of Laurent Kabilla, led by ethnic Tutsi's, had started a rebellion in response to the fact that they government of Zaire had decided to strip them of citizenship. The rebellion escalated, leading to the outbreak of war in the eastern part of the Congo, where thousands of Hutu refugees had fled to three years before. It was reported that the rebel forces were responsible for the massacre of these refugees. In the city of Mbandaka alone, Red Cross officials were reported to have come across 350 refugee corpses a day. Reports also surfaced that 60 refugees died everyday as the rebels would not allow aid workers into refugee camps. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan accused the rebels of mass murder. A special UN task team was sent in to investigate the situation, but was delayed in Kinshasa for months to negotiate the terms and scope of the investigation with the Congolese government.

By 8 December 1997, the team finally arrived in Mbandaka, where the alleged massacres had been carried out. This investigation revealed that the rebels were indeed responsible for the massacre of Hutu refugees and that it is possible that Rwandan Tutsis may have been involved. At the time that this investigation was carried out, over 190,000 Hutu refugees were unaccounted for.

References:
• French, H. Cold Trail: A special report: Congo Not Alone in Ending Massacre Inquiry. New York Times. May 7, 1998. [online] Available at: nytimes.com [Accessed 1 December 2009]
• Massacre of refugees coming to light in Zaire/Congo. Refugee News. September 1997. [online] Available at: refugeenews.tripod.com [Accessed 1 December 2009]
• U.N. withdraws some stuff from eastern Congo. CNN. October 6, 1997. [online] Available at: edition.cnn.com[Accessed 1 December 2009]

Last updated : 20-Nov-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011