KIGALI, 6 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - A senior Rwandan government official dismissed on Thursday allegations that the army was responsible for a massacre nearly 10 years ago of hundreds of people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), whose bodies were discovered recently in mass graves.
"It is very unfair to jump at accusations," Richard Sezibera, Rwanda's special envoy to the Great Lakes Region, told IRIN. "The area has a bad history of killings which should be investigated."
Sezibera pointed to a 1993 massacre of Congolese ethnic Tutsis by the army of the late Congolese president, Mobutu Sese Seko, as well as numerous ethnic clashes in that country. Sezibera said there were many mass graves in the area. He said thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees in camps in Goma, capital of Congo's North Kivu Province, and Rutshuru, 50 to 70 km north of Goma, died from a cholera epidemic in 1994 and were buried in mass graves.
The information officer of the UN Mission in the DRC in Goma, Jacqueline Chernard, said residents of Rutshuru town discovered mass graves two weeks ago and alerted the Congolese army. Then, the army informed the UN mission.
The spokesman for the mission know as MONUC, Kemal Saiki, said from Kinshasa on Thursday that a UN team of investigators had gone to the grave sites.
Skulls, bones and human tissue have been exhumed. The graves contained the remains of hundreds of people believed to be Rwandan exiles and Congolese citizens killed sometime around 1996, at the start of the country's armed conflict.
Residents of the area where the graves were found allege that at least 300 people were killed by a Rwandan-backed Congolese armed group, which was fighting Mobutu's government. Another now deceased Congolese president, Laurent-Desire Kabila, father of current President Joseph Kabila, led the insurrection against Mobutu.