By Clement Uwiringiyimana
KIGALI (Reuters) – A number of Congolese refugees were killed in clashes with Rwandan police on Thursday as officers dispersed a protest at a U.N. office against a cut in camp rations, police said.
Officers fired teargas at the group of around 3,000 protesters who police spokesman Theos Badege said were pelting them with stones and pieces of metal.
The refugees had been there since Tuesday after traveling around 15 km (10 miles) from the refugee camp in Kiziba to the U.N. office in Karongi, western Rwanda, to demonstrate against the 25 percent cut in food provided by the U.N. refugee agency.
The UNHCR agency said in January it was having to reduce the rations due to funding shortages.
“It was necessary for the police to tell (them) to show respect and warn them but as the police addressed them, they started throwing stones and police used necessary power,” Badege told Reuters.
He said police started firing teargas in the air and at the refugees when some officers were injured by the protesters.
“That was done today and they left the place. Unfortunately some of them were injured and though we are yet to get figures, some of the refugees died,” he said.
Other refugees said police had also shot at them and at least one person had been killed.
“We were shot at the UNHCR offices as we were trying to speak up our rights. My nephew Mucyo Christian died and my siblings were injured,” refugee Bakunzi Emile told Reuters by phone.
Refugees said police used live bullets there but Badege said it was not true.
Refugees said police also attacked them in the Kiziba camp. Badege said they went there to rescue an immigration officer who had been taken hostage by refugees.
Rwanda hosts about 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 people from neighboring Burundi who fled violence in 2015. Most of the rest fled the Democratic Republic of Congo during bouts of instability there over the past 20 years. The Kiziba camp houses 17,000 Congolese.
UNHCR said in a statement on Thursday that its funding appeal of 2018 for Rwanda of $98.8 million was only 2 percent funded, and the World Food Programme has warned of more cuts if its monthly requirements of $2.5 million were not met.
“UNHCR urges the refugees to respect local laws and express grievances through dialogue, while calling on authorities to handle the situation with calm and restraint,” it said.
Jeanne d’Arc DeBonheur, Rwanda’s minister for disaster management and refugees affairs, said earlier police had to act for security reasons.
“They must leave that place and go to the camp. Even we agreed with UNHCR that they cannot get any support while they are still camped there,” she said.
(Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Alison Williams)