Zaire: Lost and Starving
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We get two views now on the developments in Central Africa and the international response. Salih Booker is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Scott Campbell of the International Human Rights Law Group recently returned from a two-year tour in Goma, Zaire. And to you, Scott Campbell, how much worse does the situation seem to have gotten since you returned just weeks ago–
SCOTT CAMPBELL, International Human Rights Law Group: Eight days ago.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: –eight days ago.
MR. CAMPBELL: Quite a bit worse. When I left, the situation was already I would say tragic. The population of two of the large refugee camps north of Goma had fled, and they were basically lost as–as the news report just said. The refugee population–
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How can you lose that many people?
MR. CAMPBELL: The UNHCR has asked the U.S. Government and other governments for satellite photos. We simply do not know where the bulk of the people are. In Goma, itself, Goma was coming under heavy fire. The local population was very frightened. Food prices had already doubled. This was before the fall of Goma. At this point, I’d say the situation is quite a bit worse, and the fact that we don’t know where a lot of refugees are.
Some reports claim 60,000 have arrived in a Northern town of Kisengany. This is approximately a 300-kilometer walk through rain forest on very difficult roads. People are–if 60,000 have arrived, we can only imagine how many left to attempt the trip. So the situation has gotten quite a–quite a bit more serious, and we don’t know is a key point here–we just don’t know where the refugees are exactly.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And the firing on the camps is coming from where?
MR. CAMPBELL: The firing on the camps–the refugees that I spoke with in the Magunga Camp, which is apparently still intact, and the largest in the region, housing approximately 400,000 people that, again, we don’t know. Refugees I entertained there last Wednesday told me the firing was coming from men wearing RPA uniforms–
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: RPA–being–
MR. CAMPBELL: Being the Rwandan Patriot Army. And they claimed that these were Kiyunait-speaking men in uniform. I questioned their testimony until myself, I saw soldiers from Rwanda in Goma last Friday and then spoke with him myself on Saturday in Goma.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And why would they be firing on the refugee camps, innocent women and children?
MR. CAMPBELL: Well, I think we have to look at their–the refugee camps have plagued the Kigali administration–the government of Rwanda–for the last two years, since this–the refugee population fled, um, fled Kigali, and I there have been encouragements, numerous encouragements from Zaire into Rwanda and the ex-Rwandan army, the army that was largely responsible for the genocide in 1994, is still operational and is still in these camps, and they’ve used these camps as bases for incursions into Rwanda, and this has created all sorts of security problems for the interior of Rwanda.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Salih Booker, from where you sit, what do you think is causing the crisis to deepen, as it is?
SALIH BOOKER, Council on Foreign Relations: I think there’s a confluence of several conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi and, of course, in Zaire, itself, that two years after these large refugee settlements were established in Eastern Zaire, and the international community failed to address the problem of separating the refugees from the militias that were responsible for the genocide has just provoked a deepening of the inter-connectedness of these various crises. These militias have continued to attack Rwanda.
They have since begun to give a support to the Burundi and rebels fighting against a minority rule government in Burundi, and, of course, the very serious political crisis in Zaire, itself, the uncertainty about what comes after Mobutu and the very difficult process to try and create a transition to a democratic regime in Zaire. All of this has come together in the, in the current fighting.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You visited the camps, Mr. Campbell. What was your impression of what it would take to get the Rwandan refugees to go home, to go back to Rwanda?
MR. CAMPBELL: It’ll take a lot of work I would say mostly on the side of the Rwandan border and also work in disseminating information in Zaire, where the refugees are. The biggest fear of refugees upon return is the security situation in Rwanda, which I think has been put into question by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda. Human Rights Watch has just put out a statement saying there have been over six hundred extra judicial executions in Rwanda this past year.
There are a lot of problems with land rights, refugees, peasant refugees are worried about coming home, who might be in there in their home–who might be working in their fields, and the problem of evicting those people to reclaim their land.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But primarily, as I understand it, from what you’ve written and said, the issue is that the Rwandan refugees in the camps who are mainly of the Hutu group who committed the genocide against the Tutsis are now fearing there will be reprisals against them by the Tutsi government if they do go home, is that the major fear?
MR. CAMPBELL: I think so, and what Salih is saying is very true, and there is a failure to separate, uh, the sheep from the wolves, if you will, and this very complex situation in the camps is based around the fact that we have a large civilian population–women, children–mixed among former militias and ex-military that are responsible for some of the most heinous crimes of the century. And separating them is no easy task.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Salih Booker, how does the–there are a number of proposals on the table for what can be done about this. Can you play reporter for us for a minute and just sort of lay out the major ones.
MR. BOOKER: Well, the first proposal is the proposal that was made by the French and German governments before the UN Security Council this past weekend, which was essentially opposed by the U.S., as well as some African nations, and essentially defeated. In short, they sought to put together an international intervention force of about four or five thousand troops focused exclusively on providing security to restore distribution of humanitarian relief. Principal objections from the regional states was the French predominance in this mission.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Because–
MR. BOOKER: Well, because France is not considered to be a neutral force by Rwanda or many of the other regional states. It supported the–the Hutu government, and forces that were associated with the genocide just prior to it, and during to it according to numerous reports. The African states, as well as others, would like to see a more balanced international force, and, in essence–
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The African states met this past week and called for–
MR. BOOKER: That’s right, and, again today in Addis Ababa–on the last ones they met in Nairobi and they adopted a posture calling for an international intervention force comprised of a more balanced composition of European, African, and American forces. But the more important issue is that they want a force that not only provides security for the distribution of relief of refugees but which provides security for corridors to the plan, the repatriation of refugees back to Rwanda, in particular, as well as Burundi. Um, and this is likely to be, um, the position that the–the U.S. may come out with over the next several days. I think the concern of many observers is how to ensure that this is voluntary repatriation and not forced repatriation.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And the likelihood of that is not great, from what I hear you say.
MR. CAMPBELL: Is not great, but I think that’s the key point, is, uh, I think we have to look at longer-term solutions in Rwanda in assuring security, uh, for returnees, and this involves installing a justice system, and Rwanda has struggled over the past tow years to get its justice system up and running.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What are some of the obstacles that you’ve heard in the things that Mr. Booker just laid out? I mean is there–aside from the one–major one you just mentioned–what about–are there other obstacles to creating, um, an African–a more balanced force, you think?
MR. CAMPBELL: I think there’s–Zaire has resisted the idea, um, of an international force coming in that will provide aid to refugees on Zairean soil. This is a problem, as Salih has said; uh, if the forces for refugees are to either get aid in Rwanda or get no aid, this, this amounts to forced repatriation. This is–this is a major obstacle. Zaire is saying no international force will come in–uh–to provide aid on Zairean soil for refugees.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about Zaire, itself? I mean, how does the conflict with its own Tutsis affect the larger picture?
MR. BOOKER: Well, Zaire did not participate in the meeting in Nairobi last week, but apparently they have sent a delegation to the meetings that occurred earlier today in Addis Ababa. Apparently, their position is slightly more nuance now. They’re prepared to accept an international intervention force, but they are still seeking to condition it on what they consider to be the need for a withdrawal of Rwandan forces from Eastern Zaire, which they allege is the case.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And briefly, just tell me what are the chances of the disintegration of Zaire, itself?
MR. CAMPBELL: I think the chances become greater the longer this crisis is–is drawn out, and I would say this crisis, of course, beginning back at least in 1994.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And if Zaire breaks up, what are the implications of that, briefly?
MR. CAMPBELL: I think there’d be a regional disaster, and we’d see each state going its own way, each with its own internal chaos.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: New borders, new fighting, more killing.
MR. CAMPBELL: New borders, new fighting, and spreading to other countries in the region.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, thank you.