Congo refugees in Rwanda say soldiers shoot and wound at least two during food protest

KIGALI, Rwanda (Reuters) - Congolese refugees in Rwanda said soldiers shot at them and wounded at least two people on Tuesday as the refugees tried to march out of their camp in protest at a cut in food rations.

A government minister denied the account.

Refugees said around 2,000 people from the 17,000-strong Karongi camp in western Rwanda marched out of the camp to protest a 25 percent cut that began last month in the rations provided by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). The agency made the cuts saying it faced funding problems.

“When we reached the town of Karongi the soldiers stopped us ... one soldier in a car asked others to shoot,” Eugene Mukabasoni, a mother of three, told Reuters by phone, adding that soldiers beat refugees severely.

“I was beaten over the head with a stick,” she said. Several refugees gave similar accounts and one told Reuters he was shot in the foot. Rwanda houses some 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 who came from Burundi.

De Bonheur Jeanne d’Arc, the minister for disaster management and refugees affairs, disputed the refugees’ account.

“We are still in consultations over what should be done but we think no refugee should try to return home (to Congo) in protest,” she told Reuters by phone.

“Soldiers shot no one. The soldiers stopped them and refugees started hurling stones. So obviously when people start using stones as many as they were, some get injured. I don’t have information that even at least shot in the air.”

Officials from UNHCR did not have an immediate comment. The agency and government are due to hold a news conference on Wednesday. Refugees would camp at a UNHCR office and not return to the camp, a refugee told Reuters.

Editing by George Obulutsa and Matthew Mpoke Bigg