Rwanda police arrest 23 Congolese refugees after violence in camp

  •  Visiting officials hit with stones by refugees on Monday
  •  Refugees say police used teargas and live fire
  •  Police refugees arrested for fighting police

KIGALI: Rwandan police have arrested 23 Congolese refugees after senior police officers and government officials were pelted with stones during a visit to refugee camp, authorities said after two days of clashes.

The officials visiting western Rwanda's Kiziba camp, home to 17,000 Congolese refugees, were attacked on Monday. Police responded by firing teargas at the refugees, injuring at least one child.

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

“Several others were also wounded while others were arrested as police searched the camp,” Desange Mukeshimana, a resident of the camp and a mother of three children, said on Tuesday.

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

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

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

Rwandan police said on Twitter routine patrols continued in and around the camp to ensure safety for all 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 a total of 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 from neighbouring Burundi who fled violence in 2015. Most of the rest fled the 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 – Elysee Kanyandekwe - was shot as he “tried to fight for the leader” of the refugee executive 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 organising February's protest while investigations continue.