Interview of MSF France Director 28 April 1997



Presenter: Sixty days…that’s how long Zairian rebels have given humanitarian organisations to repatriate 100,000 refugees from Kisangani. By creating an investigation committee, Laurent-Désiré Kabila hopes to counter the massacre accusations against him. He wants to be done with the refugee issue.

Reporter: In an ultimatum-cum-counterattack to the accusations against him, Laurent-Désiré Kabila is demanding that Rwandan Hutus leave the Kisangani area by the end of June. To make this happen, he’s agreed to the conditions proposed by the UNHCR several weeks ago: unrestricted use of both city airports, unfettered access to the Kisangani and Ubundu area – that is, the region where the refugees were supposed to be – and the creation of centres where they can be treated prior to their journey. The UNHCR – which before the refugees disappeared had estimated that repatriation would take two to three months – hopes the alliance deadlines will be flexible, because there’s a problem: the refugees are gone. Laurent-Désiré Kabila claims they headed south – something the UNHCR hopes to verify in the next few hours – and the head of the alliance has again agreed to an international mission to investigate the massacre accusations aimed at rebel soldiers.

Presenter: So the rebels’ evacuation plan is very similar to the one worked out by the UNHCR. The only difference is that for military reasons, the refugees aren’t allowed to go through Goma. So the plan is to go straight to Rwanda, an option that Médecins Sans Frontières vehemently opposes. MSF Director Bernard Pécoul tells us why.

Bernard Pécoul: Repatriation is no longer a credible option. How can repatriation be considered when neither the rebels nor the Kigali government are willing to take these people in?

Reporter: You’re working in the transit camps where the refugees go when they arrive in Rwanda. How is that going?

Bernard Pécoul: The camps are only supposed to last 24 hours, but most of the people coming in now are terribly malnourished. The goal is to send them straight to their collines. I think these people are in the way now, no one wants them. I think we’re opening a window. We’re not diplomats, it’s not up to us to find a solution, but we think the refugees should be given asylum in a neighbouring country so they can pull themselves together and recover at least a little dignity. I think we’re ashamed of what's happening right now, the passivity of the international community and the governments in the region, who should be involved in what’s happening.

Presenter: MSF Director Bernard Pécoul. In any case, the refugees have to be found before they can be repatriated; the most recent reconnaissance operations have failed to locate the roughly 85,000 people who fled the camps around Kisangani last week.