Interahamwe killers launch new attacks on Rwanda

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afrol News, 7 June - The Rwandan army says it has killed about 150 Hutu "Interahamwe" rebels in a major operation near the Congolese border in the country's north-west. Interahamwe killers were the main organisers behind the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. The remaining Interahamwe hardcore has since operated in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) - the main reason behind Rwanda's DRC involvement. 

For the first time since the genocide, large numbers of Interahamwe rebels are reportedly trying to make their way back to Rwanda across the border. Minor rebel attacks into Rwanda were however reported in 1999. Now, about 2,000 armed rebels are reported to have moved into Virunga National Park (on the Congolese, Ugandan and Rwandan border), according to Rwandan Colonel Jean-Bosco Kazura. The Virunga Park is also one of the two homes to the endangered mountain gorillas. 

Some 150 of the Interahamwe rebels were caught in a trap by the Rwandan army yesterday morning. Brigadier General James Kabarebe yesterday told media "the fighting began at seven o'clock this morning, and lasted the whole day." No government soldiers were killed, but an estimated 150 rebels lost their lives in the fights. 

Rwandan Colonel Jean-Bosco Kazura today told the French news agency AFP, "Yesterday evening local residents informed us that a column of Interahamwes was attempting to infiltrate the Cyanzarwe district. We prepared an operation and we caught them in a trap." 

The Interahamwe were considered the hardliners under the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As the genocidal government fell, they fled to Congo Kinshasa together with an estimated 2 million Hutus. The Interahamwe quickly regrouped in the Congo, held refugees as hostages and started slaying Congolese Tutsis. 

Being backed with training and weapons by Congolese ex-President Laurent Kabila, the Interahamwe again started to pose a threat to the Rwandan government. Kabila's reluctance to disarm the Interahamwe was the direct reason behind Rwanda's support to Congolese Tutsi rebels and a joint attack on the Kinshasa government. 

Rwanda still has troops in Congo Kinshasa, and several times has demanded the disarmament of the Interahamwe to withdraw from the country. The Interahamwe however still fights alongside the Congolese army in its war against various rebel groups supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Rwandan security officers claim to have information documenting that the Kinshasa government still supplies the genocide rebels.

As Rwanda slowly is pulling out of Congo, in response to international demands, pressure on the Kinshasa government to disarm the Interahamwe has however increased. According to a BBC analysis, "Repeated talk of the imminent disarmament of the militia groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo appears to be causing panic in the ranks of the Interahamwe." 

The renewed attacks on Rwanda are seen as an effort by the Interahamwe to gain foothold within Rwanda before the Congolese allies withdraw their support. This theory is supported by the considerable numbers of Interahamwe rebels trying to enter Rwanda over the last weeks, most of them not even properly armed nor carrying enough food supplies. 

The Rwandan army has captured some 150 Interahamwe fighters over the last weeks. They confirm the poor state of the insurgents. The story by one of them, Innocent Kagango, has already made worldwide headlines, as he described how hungry rebels broke a local taboo by slaughtering and eating three mountain gorillas. 

Press reports quoted Dr. Liz Williamson of the Gorilla Research Centre run by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International as saying, "It is a terrible loss because the population of gorillas is so tiny, any single individual is invaluable genetically." 

The wildlife protection and the security agencies of the Rwanda government have ensured the safety of a large number of rare mountain gorillas within the Virunga National Park. "The gorilla family groups and feeding areas are protected by the combined force of the national army and forest rangers," a Rwandan government spokesman says. "As a result of these protection efforts, the population of the rare species has grown by 10% within the last decade."

While the international media remains most focused on the mountain gorillas (there are reportedly only 650 left, and they represent Rwanda's third highest hard currency earner due to the tourism they generate), the Interahamwe keep infiltrating north-western Rwanda. 

In Rwanda, that experienced an incomprehensible slaughter of almost one million fellow countrymen only seven years ago, the wounds are far from healed. Every Rwandan has lost family members to the Interahamwe, an unknown number of women were raped, and most were deeply humiliated. The genocide is still alive - and so are most of the perpetuators. Hearing of Interahamwe killers infiltrating Rwanda therefore recalls the worst nightmares in a terrified Rwandan population.

Sources: Rwandan govt., press reports and afrol archives Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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