May 2, 2018 / 9:55 AM / 21 days ago

Rwanda police arrest 23 Congolese refugees after violence in camp

KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwandan police arrested 23 Congolese refugees after officials visiting their camp were pelted with stones, authorities said after two days of clashes in which one refugee died.

The attack on police and government officials took place on Monday in western Rwanda’s Kiziba camp, home to 17,000 Congolese refugees. Police responded by firing teargas.

“There is one refugee who died of wounds sustained yesterday,” Jean Claude Rwahama, ministry official in charge of refugees, told Reuters, adding that four police officers and five refugees were injured.

Refugees at the camp told Reuters that hundreds of armed police officers entered the compound on Tuesday and fired teargas and live rounds.

One refugee died, several were wounded and others were arrested as police conducted searches, mother-of-three Desange Mukeshimana, a resident of the camp, said on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the flare-up, but some refugees said it stemmed from violence in February when police killed at least five and injured 20 after protests over cuts in food rations.

Police spokesman Theos Badege said attacks on police officers had led to arrests on Tuesday, but declined to comment on whether police had fired live rounds and teargas.

“We arrested them because as we were conducting our duties, they tried to fight the police,” he said.

Police said on Twitter that routine patrols were continuing in and around the camp to ensure safety for refugees and other residents of the area.

“Several refugees resorted to violence, throwing stones and attacking police officers with sharp objects, leading to the arrest of 23 individuals who were handed over to relevant authorities for investigations,” they said.

Rwanda hosts an estimated 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 from neighboring Burundi who fled violence in 2015. Most of the rest fled Democratic Republic of Congo during bouts of instability there over the past two decades.

Another refugee, Shyaka Elie, said of this week’s clashes: “This is unbelievable to see refugees being harassed like this. As refugees we also used stones, but we were trying to defend ourselves.

“We are Congolese and we want to go back home even if it is not safe there, we are not safe here either.”

Elie said the dead refugee was shot as he “tried to fight for the leader” of the committee that runs the camp, which authorities have since disbanded on accusations of inciting violence.

A court upheld a decision on Monday to continue to detain 21 refugees on charges of organizing February’s protest while investigations continue.

Writing by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Alison Williams and John Stonestreet

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