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Rights Group Sees Little Evidence of Congo Gunmen in Tutsi Massacre  - 2004-09-07


Human Rights Watch, an international rights watchdog, has concluded that there is little evidence that Congo-based gunmen took part in last month's massacre of 160 Congolese Tutsis in Burundi. The findings challenge reports by Rwanda, Burundi, and some at the United Nations that Congolese militia or Rwandan Hutu extremists were responsible.

The August 13th slaughter of about 160 Congolese Tutsis at Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi pushed Africa's troubled Great Lakes region back to the brink of war.

Saying they had proof that the gunmen had swept in from neighboring Congo, the governments of Burundi and Rwanda warned the international community that they were prepared to invade Congo to hunt down the perpetrators of the crime they labeled genocide.

A former Congolese rebel group, now part of the country's fragile transitional government, echoed these accusations and temporarily suspended its participation in the peace process as a result.

Briefings in recent weeks at the U.N. Security Council have also pointed fingers at armed groups in the Congo, notably a Congolese militia known as the Mai Mai and Rwandan Hutu militias that took part in the 1994 genocide but are now in Congo's lawless east.

But Human Rights Watch said there Tuesday there is little evidence that armed groups based in Congo played a significant role alongside the Forces for National Liberation, Burundian rebels who immediately claimed responsibility for killing.

Soon after the attack, witnesses were quoted by the media and political leaders saying the attackers spoke many Congolese languages during the raid and the reports were widely accepted in the region and further afield.

But the group says little proof of these claims was found during its research.

Human Rights Watch adds many testimonies were controlled by Tutsis who seemed to want to "make all information conform to a given version," rather than to allow for an accurate reconstruction of the events.

The report also heavily criticizes the Burundian authorities for their reaction to the massacre.

It says that the 100 soldiers and policemen stationed nearby not only failed to step in to protect the refugees, but they did not call for reinforcements or inform the United Nations until the killings were over and the attackers had left.

Human Rights Watch warned that in immediately trying to use the killing for their own political ends, Congolese and Burundian powerbrokers, alongside parties to conflicts across national boundaries, were increasing the likelihood of more armed conflict and the slaughters of civilians.

Congo is struggling to emerge from a five-year war that killed three million people. Meanwhile, tiny Burundi is also trying to consolidate peace and is due to hold elections in several months time.

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