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Zairian Troops Dig In Near Bukavu; Fighting Kills Archbishop

October 30, 1996 GMT

CYANGUGU, Rwanda (AP) _ Zairian troops dodged enemy fire and took up defensive positions Wednesday after Tutsi rebels and Rwandan army commandos routed them from a major city on the Zairian side of the border.

The battle for Bukavu, on the south end of Lake Kivu, claimed the life of eastern Zaire’s Roman Catholic archbishop.

The Rev. Christophe Munzihirwa Mwene Ngabo, a 70-year-old ethnic Tutsi, was slain Tuesday ``during a military attack on the city,″ a Vatican spokesman said on condition of anonymity. Details of the death were unclear.

Munzihirwa was the second prelate in the region slain in the past two months. Archbishop Joachim Ruhuna of Burundi was killed Sept. 9.

Zairian troops in South Kivu province are fighting Tutsi rebels who have defied the government’s order to leave the country. The rebels, known as Banyamulenge, are descendants of Tutsis who immigrated to the region at least 200 years ago.

The fighting has sent hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from camps, prompting aid workers to warn of a humanitarian disaster.

French President Jacques Chirac urged the United Nations and the Organization of African States to organize a conference on the crisis and called on world leaders to help Africa’s Great Lakes region.

The United Nations on Wednesday appointed Canada’s ambassador to Washington as an envoy to deal with the crisis. Raymond Chretien, who previously served as ambassador to Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi, is expected to leave for Africa on Nov. 6.

Gen. James L. Jamerson, deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, also is to travel to Zaire next week ``to get an assessment or briefing on the situation,″ a U.S. Army spokesman in Frankfurt, Germany, said Wednesday.

Rwanda insists it is not at war with Zaire, but its Tutsi-dominated military exchanged cross-border fire with Zairian troops on Tuesday. One Rwandan was killed and 10 were wounded. Zairian casualties were not known.

The Rwandan army also said it sent a group of commandos across the border overnight and helped the Tutsi rebels oust Zairian troops from Bukavu.

Lt. Col. Fermin Kagame, Rwandan army commander for the region, told The Associated Press that the commandos ``were in Zaire for enough time to do the job,″ and then returned to Rwanda.

His report was impossible to verify as Rwandan troops prevented journalists from crossing into Zaire. But the scene Wednesday appeared to confirm his claims.

From a vantage point on the Rwandan side of the border, Zairian troops could be seen digging in about three miles outside Bukavu.

The thud of mortar rounds echoed off the hillside, and Zairian troops were seen scurrying for cover as shells fired from Bukavu peppered the positions, sending white puffs of smoke into the air around a solitary whitewashed house.

Jean-Baptiste Nzabakirana, a Hutu refugee who left Bukavu on Wednesday and crossed into Rwanda, said he had seen no Zairian troops in the town or on the road to the border. The main border post was deserted.

Nzabakirana, whose height and fine features make him look like a Tutsi to many locals, had been hounded out of his refugee camp by Hutu militia who accused him of being a Rwandan spy.

He had been hiding in Bukavu and emerged early Wednesday after hearing soldiers speaking Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda and Burundi and of the Banyamulenge. He said he could not identify the soldiers’ uniforms.

In the Rwandan capital of Kigali, Vice President and Defense Minister Paul Kagame, no relation to Lt. Col. Kagame, acknowledged Wednesday that as many as 6,000 Banyamulenge had received Rwandan army training.

He said Rwanda would not hesitate to retaliate against Zairian aggression and warned the conflict could engulf the whole region.

``If I am slapped in the face, I will hit back,″ he said.

The newly appointed military governor for north Kivu, Gen. Ngwala Panzu Nduala, criticized the foreign training.

``Zairian youth have gone to Rwanda for three to six months of training. They come back armed,″ he said. ``They were born in Zaire, they grew up in Zaire, and now they have turned against their own country.″

Uganda’s state-owned New Vision newspaper reported Wednesday that thousands of Zairians were fleeing into Ugandan towns near the Zaire border, including 1,000 Zairian troops and hundreds of Zairian Tutsis.

More than 1.1 million mostly Hutu refugees have been in eastern Zaire since they fled Rwanda in the middle of 1994 after Hutu gangs led the genocide of at least half a million people, mostly Tutsis.

Pope John Paul II on Wednesday denounced the ``shameful manhunt″ in Zaire that has driven refugees from camp to camp, and said those responsible will have to answer to God.