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UNHCR calls for halt to violence in the Great Lakes

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UNHCR calls for halt to violence in the Great Lakes

25 August 1997

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today condemned the attack that killed 148 people in a camp in Rwanda last week, but warned it should not be an excuse for further violence against refugees in the Great Lakes region.

High Commissioner Sadako Ogata said she was "shocked and outraged" by Friday's attack against Mudende Camp in Rwanda's Gisenyi province.

At least 131 Congolese refugees and 17 others, including some of the attackers, were killed and another 80 were wounded in the assault, the worst against a refugee camp in Rwanda.

Rwandan officials said Hutu rebels were responsible for the attack on Mudende. The camp holds more than 8,000 Tutsi refugees who escaped ethnic clashes in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the past several years.

"I am extremely sad that these refugees who fled from violence and persecution and were generously received on Rwandan soil have now fallen victim to such an act of barbarism in their country of refuge," she said.

"This latest atrocity again demonstrates the need to end the spiral of violence which continues to plague parts of the region."

The High Commissioner has been holding consultations with the Organization of African Unity to try to establish how to tackle the deepening refugee crises in the Great Lakes.

In Burundi and Rwanda, thousands of returning refugees have been caught up in bloody ethnic clashes. In the DRC, there have been reports of further killings of Rwandan Hutu refugees.

In Congo-Brazzaville, intensified fighting has left refugees and displaced people cut off from international assistance. Pressure for repatriation is rife in the entire region.

"The attack on Mudende may only serve to further inflame an already explosive situation," Mrs. Ogata said.

"I call on all parties involved in the conflict in the region to do their utmost to defuse the current crisis and avoid senseless actions that could serve as an excuse to provoke further violence against refugees. There's been so much suffering already."

"The clamour for justice must be satisfied. However not all the Rwandan refugees were involved in the genocide. We must be able to screen them to separate the innocent from the guilty," Mrs. Ogata said.