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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

DRC-RWANDA: Hutu militants holding 3,000 hostages

KINSHASA, 20 January 2004 (IRIN) - Hutu militants opposed to the voluntary repatriation of their countrymen are holding at least 3,000 Rwandan civilians and former combatants hostage in a forest in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC, Hamadoun Toure, said on Tuesday.

"Some hardliners do not want to return to Rwanda and have obstructed former fighters intent on returning home from leaving the forest," he said.

"They have set up a checkpoint at the exit of the forest. Then they threaten the refugees and tell them that they would find no security in Rwanda, thereby discouraging them from leaving," he added.

Toure's comments confirm those of Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande on Monday in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. Muligande said he learnt of the situation through William Swing, the head of the UN Mission in the DRC. Swing was in Kigali to brief President Paul Kagame on the latest peace building initiatives in the DRC and progress, so far, in repatriating the Rwandans.

Most of the militants are members of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces democratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda) that the Congolese government has outlawed and ordered out of the country.

The UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, has for the last two years supported a voluntary repatriation of former Rwandan combatants and their dependents, once opposed to the government in Kigali. The numbers of those going back home rose sharply after the main rebel commander, Paul Rwarakabije, returned home in November 2003.

Of the 14,000 fighters and their dependents estimated to be in the Congo, 5,056 have returned home under a demobilisation, disarmament, repatriation and reintegration programme for armed foreign groups in the DRC.

South African UN troops are deployed in the Kivus to protect UN personnel trying to urge the Rwandans to leave the forests. However, Toure said the militants had blocked attempts by the UN to contact those in the forests. Nevertheless, Muligande told reporters that efforts were now being made to tell the hostages through the radio and leaflets dropped by air that they could return safely to Rwanda.

Many Hutus fled Rwanda in 1994 after Hutu militants killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutus.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs

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