UN DHA IRIN Masisi Report of 23 August 1996 96.08.23

UN DHA IRIN Masisi Report of 23 August 1996 96.08.23

Department of Humanitarian Affairs

Integrated Regional Information Network
PO Box 30218, Nairobi.
Tel: +254 2 441125
Fax: +254 2 448816

23 August 1996


This report describes developments in Masisi, Rutshuru and Lubero since mid-May 1996 and is based on research carried out in Goma in early August. The report updates IRIN's situation report on Masisi and Rutshuru of 10 May 1996 which also gave an account of the historical background to the conflict. Copies of the earlier report are available from IRIN.


The situation in the southern and central parts of Masisi zone, approximately the area along and around the main roads between Masisi town, Sake and Kichanga, is reported to be largely calm. A number of security incidents continue to take place however, which often relate to attempts to steal livestock by local Hutus and people believed to be Rwandan refugees.

The area as a whole has been depopulated as a result of previous rounds of fighting between Banyarwanda Hutu and `autochtones'. This has seen the local Hunde fleeing to the margins of the zone, nearly all the Tutsis being expelled from the area altogether and the Hutus establishing control over large areas which were once ethnically mixed. The Hunde population is concentrated in the camps for the displaced at Sake, Minova and Bobandana (a population totalling 30,000) as well as in Masisi town itself, while most of Masisi's former Tutsi population is living as refugees in Rwanda.

The area around Ngungu, which lies around 20km to the south-west of Sake, has been sufficiently calm to have enabled several thousand people, mostly from the Tembo ethnic group, to return to their homes from surrounding areas. Lt. Kasembe, a FAZ (Forces Armees Zairoises) commander based in Ngungu, has pursued an `iron fist' policy, taking the fight to anyone who has threatened the area's stability. This has not, however, prevented security incidents altogether. During the night of 21 July there was an attack on Ngungu by a group of Hutus attempting to steal cattle. Two of these people were killed by the FAZ, while the rest of the group, estimated at 16 in number, are reported to have fled.

People from the Hunde ethnic group are reported to have returned to Masisi town from other parts of Masisi. Among their number are people believed to have fought as Bangilima in northern Masisi, Rutshuru and Lubero (see section on Operation Mbata). Masisi town is also home to a FAZ contingent from Operation Kimia, reported to consist of over 100 soldiers. The market in Masisi town is now functioning on Sundays, bringing in much-needed goods such as soap, salt, oil and sugar from Goma.

The market in nearby Lushebere also began to operate again in late May at the initiative of the local Commissionnaire de Zone. By drawing in Hunde from Masisi town and Hutus from east of Lushebere, the market has played a significant role in helping to defuse tensions in the area. The market has been protected by FAZ soldiers from Operation Kimia, who have enforced the rule that no one apart from themselves is allowed to bring along guns.


In late May the FAZ began a second operation in Masisi zone, this time known as Operation Mbata (`slap'). Troops from the operation have deployed to northern Masisi, particularly to the area north of Kichanga. Their arrival is reported to have been accompanied by looting and pillaging, but their presence has also prompted the Bangilima to flee to the hills. This has, for the time being, brought to a halt the large-scale population displacement which characterized April and early May.

Operation Mbata has also deployed to Rutshuru and Lubero, where between mid-May and the end of June troops from the operation engaged in intense fighting with the Bangilima. The Bangilima, who came from Walikale, had arrived with the self-professed aim of chasing away Banyarwanda, whom they accused of attempting to establish a `Hutuland' in Masisi. The first fighting between Bangilima and the FAZ took place in mid-May in Rwindi National Park, Vitshumbi and Kiberizi. The Bangilima used Kanyabayonga and Kayna in southern Lubero as their base, and over subsequent weeks fighting took place in Kanyabayonga, Kayna, Kirumba and villages in the vicinity.

Kanyaboyonga was reportedly attacked by the FAZ between 6 and 8 June, with the military using rocket launchers and tanks. The FAZ subsequently established control over the area, while the Bangil-ima returned to Masisi. The fighting lead tens of thousands of people to be displaced from their homes; many headed further north in the direction of Lubero, while others scattered to surrounding hills and villages. Both the Bangilima and the FAZ have looted towns in the area, while the military are reportedly charging local people to allow them to register and resettle in their home villages.

Operation Mbata in Masisi and Lubero operates under two separate military commands. The Masisi command is headed by Colonel Nsumbu and based in Goma with military from Goma, Shaba and Kinshasa, while the Lubero command is headed by Major Mutembe and based in Butembo with military from Kamina. The soldiers are drawn from different units - the DSP, SARM (Service d'Action et de Renseignement Militaire) and other parts of the FAZ.


The Kichanga enclave, home to 19,000 displaced people according to the most recent survey, appears to be increasingly vulnerable. The vast majority of the people living there are from the Hunde ethnic group and Kichanga is therefore the largest single concentration of `autochtones' in northern Masisi. As such, it has for many months been under attack from local Hutus, as well as providing a base for Hunde to attack surrounding villages.

On 22 June Hutus mounted perhaps their biggest offensive against Kichanga to date. This met with fierce resistance by Kichanga residents as well as FAZ soldiers from the DSP (Division Speciale Presidentielle) who are stationed there. The fighting resulted in 62 people reportedly losing their lives, 57 of whom were Hutu and 5 of whom were Hunde.

According to reports from local people who searched the bodies, the Hutus who had been killed carried ration cards from Mugunga refugee camp and ex-FAR identity cards from Lac Vert military camp. Other papers reportedly found on the bodies included maps and instructions for the attack. If these reports are true they are highly significant, representing some of the first hard evidence of the involvement of refugees in the Masisi conflict and suggesting that Hutu operations are being planned and carried out in an organized manner.

Kichanga is also vulnerable in terms of food security as it is increasingly difficult for women to go out in search of food without coming under attack. This has been an issue for several months, but recently there is evidence of Hutus cutting down banana trees in the vicinity of the town, suggesting the pursuit of a siege strategy. The result has been increasingly high levels of malnutrition among the displaced population, with the number of severely malnourished children in MSF's supplementary feeding centre having risen from 20 to more than 80 in the past month.


In recent weeks fighting between Banyarwanda Hutus from Masisi and Rwandan refugees from the camps has been reported for the first time. In late June, 21 Hutus from the refugee camps are reported to have been killed by local Hutus, after the refugees had mounted an attack near Nyakariba in an attempt to steal cattle. There have also been a number of recent accounts of refugees killing local Hutus while mounting raids upon their cattle herds.

It has long been suspected that refugees from the camps have played a major role in stealing cattle from Masisi, the number of which, according to ACOGENOKI (L'Association Cooperative des Groupements d'Eleveurs do Nord-Kivu), has fallen from 450,000 three years ago to less than 30,000 today. ACOGENOKI blames refugees from Mugunga camp for much of the cattle rustling in Masisi, but claims that until recently the refugees were working with local Hutus to steal cattle from Tutsis and Hundes. It appears that, with the dramatically diminished cattle stocks in the zone, the refugees are now resorting to stealing cattle from their former allies.


The future for the small number of Tutsis remaining in Masisi is precarious. Following the widely reported massacre at Mokoto on 14 May, many observers believed that all the Tutsis had left Masisi. It now appears that there are still a few pockets of Tutsis left, the largest known concentrations being in Mweso (400) and Osso (150). A privately organized convoy from Goma attempted to reach the Tutsis in Mweso in mid-July but was forced to turn back after being attacked on the road.

The total number of Tutsis still living in Masisi is estimated at between 1000 and 2000, but it remains possible that pockets may exist in inaccessable places which outsiders have not visited. It is also unclear how many of those that remain wish to leave at the present time. Given the trend of developments in Masisi, however, it seems likely that it is only a matter of time before these people are targeted.

Meanwhile, their predecessors continue to live as refugees in Gisenyi, Rwanda. According to UNHCR there are now 15,875 Zairean asylum seekers in Rwanda, of whom approximately 13,500 are living at the Petit Barriere/Umbano camp. Humanitarian agencies in Goma express concern about the location of the camp so close to the Rwanda-Zaire border, arguing that it could become a flashpoint for escalating conflict in the area.


Since mid-May there have been two major initiatives to fund and provide humanitarian assistance in Masisi and Rutshuru. ECHO, which has been the leading donor to Masisi over the past year, has pledged an additional 1.5 million ecu (c. $1,190,000) for humanitarian assistance in the region, bringing its total contribution over the past ten months to about 2 million ecu (c. $1,500,000). The bulk of this money will go to the ICRC and MSF Holland, the leading humanitarian agencies operational in Masisi and Rutshuru.

UNICEF also launched an appeal on 10 June for $863,000, to fund humanitarian assistance activities in Masisi over a six month period. This appeal has already received $500,000 from the Danish Government. UNICEF plans to use this money both for its own programmes and to fund NGOs working in Masisi, in the sectors of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and `children in especially difficult circumstances.' The appeal follows a DHA-led mission on Masisi in early June, one of whose recommendations was a UN appeal for the region.

Both the ICRC and MSF Holland are planning to scale up their emergency assistance in the health sector in Masisi. ICRC and MSF Holland have agreed on a clear division of labour in which ICRC will take responsibility for secondary health care and MSF will take responsibility for primary health care. The ICRC plans to rehabilitate the hospital in Masisi town and Nyakariba health centre and is also looking into the possibility of similar assistance in Kirotche and Pinga. ICRC has almost rebuilt the bridge on the road between Mweso and Pinga, which will make the town accessible for the first time in many months.

MSF Holland are extending their support from 15 to 40 health centres. They are also carrying out nutritional evaluations and four emergency feeding programmes, upgrading Kibabi health centre in cooperation with the local NGO CEMUBAC and introducing a water and sanitation programme for the Mweso area. This will focus on four sites and cover an estimated population of 54,000 people, of whom 50 per cent are displaced. CEMUBAC has also helped to reinstall the Medecin Chef de Zone for Masisi, which is reported to have given a much-needed pyschological boost to the population and health staff.

IOM has proposed to assist in the resettlement of 11,000 people from the Tembo ethnic group from Goma town to their home area to the south-west of Sake (roughly the area enclosed by a triangle whose three points are Ngungu, Mumba and Katoyi). IOM argues that this is necessary if they are to prepare for the next planting season but that it does not have the resources to move ahead on its proposal without additional funding.

The plan has, however, been strongly criticized by humanitarian agencies already working in Masisi. They argue that it is premature given the unpredictability of the situation in the area, that a large-scale organized movement may provoke conflict, and that those people who really want to return home have the means to do so without IOM's assistance. Thousands of people are reported to have made their way back to the area in the past few weeks, both from surrounding areas and further afield.


Recent developments in Masisi, Rutshuru and Lubero underline the dangers presented by this conflict if it is allowed to continue unchecked. The activities of the Bangilima in Lubero, though quashed by the FAZ, are a reminder that the conflict has the potential to spread far beyond its original heartland of Masisi. At the same time, the possibility of renewed conflict in Masisi remains a major threat. The small Tutsi population still living in Masisi, and the enclave of Kichanga, are both vulnerable to future attack.

The reported fighting between Hutus from Masisi and from the camps has further heightened the complexity of the conflict, and may prove to have far-reaching consequences. Certainly, it is likely to make humanitarian work in the zone even more difficult and dangerous than it has been until now. The growing evidence of the involvement of refugees from the camps in Masisi's troubles underscores yet again their highly destabilizing influence in the region and the fact that Masisi's future is inextricably linked to that of the Rwandan refugees.

While FAZ military initiatives may give the appearance of restoring a measure of stability to their fields of operation, they remain at best a temporary solution to the region's problems. The twin issues underpinning the violence are first and foremost the question of nationality for people of Banyarwanda expression and the insecurity caused by the involvement of Rwandan refugees. Unless and until these problems are addressed by a political initiative which has the support of both the Government and local people, the `Masisi conflict' will continue to cause needless death and suffering in North Kivu.


The following reports on Masisi have been published since January and are available from IRIN:

UN DHA IRIN, Situation Report on Masisi, 26 February 1996.

UN DHA IRIN, Situation Report on Masisi and Rutshuru, 10 May 1996.

US Committee for Refugees, `Masisi, Down the Road from Goma: Ethnic Cleansing and Displacement in Eastern Zaire', 7 June 1996.

L'ACOGENOKI, Incidence de la Presence des Refugies Rwandais sur les Elevages au Nord-Kivu depuis Juillet 1994. (L'ACOGENOKI - L'Association Cooperative des Groupements d'Eleveurs du Nord-Kivu)

UNICEF Special Appeal for Eastern Zaire, 9 July 1996.

Human Rights Watch/Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme, `Zaire: Forced to Flee - Violence Against the Tutsis in Zaire', 31 July 1996.


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From: Guy Vassall-Adams <>
Date: Fri, 23 Aug 1996 16:13:43 +0300 (GMT+0300)
Subject: UN DHA IRIN Masisi Report of 23 August 1996 96.08.23
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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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