By late 1998, the RPA had pushed the insurgents, generally called abacengezi, back across the border into the Congo but it continued to depict them as a major threat requiring a continued Rwandan presence in the Congo.
After a year of relative calm, several groups of insurgents appeared once more in the northwestern prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri in late 1999. They requisitioned food from local farmers in Nkuli commune and they engaged in brief skirmishes with PA troops in the communes of Kidaho and Nyamutera.
They launched no major attack, however, until December 23, 1999, when a group of armed assailants killed thirty-one Tutsi civilians, many of them women and children, and left four more wounded at the settlement of Tamira, in Gisenyi prefecture. The assailants, wearing military uniforms, arrived at about 10 p.m. and first encountered two Tamira residents who were patrolling to protect the settlement. They killed one. As the other fled, the assailants began attacking houses in the southeastern corner of the settlement. They moved along the first three of the neat rows of houses, leaving some undisturbed. At others, they called out the names of the victims. When residents of the houses did not open their doors, the assailants forced their way in. One of those targeted was Butera, a local official known as the responsable, whose mandate covered Tamira as well as part of the surrounding area. Another was in charge of the settlement itself and a third was treasurer of a local agricultural cooperative.3
At the home of Jean-Damascene Ntaganda, the settlement head, the assailants broke down the door and shot Ntaganda's mother and three of his children. They pushed into a second room in the small house and shot both Ntaganda and his wife. Only Ntaganda and one of his children survived. In another small home, a woman hid paralyzed with fear behind a chair as two assailants discussed the fate of her three month old son, Jacques Shyaka. One hesitated to kill the baby, but finally did so after the second said, "Kill him." At another house, the attackers killed Nsindiro his wife and their four children, aged four to fourteen.4
The assailants shot all the victims at close range and threw one grenade into a house.5 In the space of fifteen to twenty minutes they attacked some fifteen houses. At the sound of a whistle, they broke off the slaughter and fled. As they retreated toward the border, they captured two cattle herders and took them along,perhaps to serve as guides, but later released them. 6
Local authorities, both civilian and military, as well as residents of Tamira, portrayed the assailants as abacengezi who had come from across the border, which is about one hour distant by foot. It is not clear how assailants from the Congo would have known the names of those whom they attacked. Some victims asserted that the assailants must have had collaborators within the settlement itself while others say that Hutu from neighboring communities supplied this information.7
Soldiers stationed at two military posts, each just over a mile from Tamira, presumably heard the sounds of gunfire from the start of the attack, but they arrived by vehicle only thirty to forty minutes later, some ten to fifteen minutes after the assailants had finished the massacre and departed. They apparently gave chase to the killers the next morning and reportedly located their camp in the forest that abuts the nearby frontier. According to a RPA officer, they killed four of the men found at the camp and chased the others into the forest.8
All the victims were Tutsi who migrated from the Congo after the RPF established its new government in 1994. Some forty of the 222 families in the settlement are Tutsi who survived the genocide in Rwanda, but none of them was attacked. Many Tamira residents have husbands, sons or brothers who currently serve in the RPA, a circumstance which makes the lack of protection by RPA troops even harder to understand.93 Human Rights Watch interviews, Nkuli commune and Mutura commune, January 13 and 31, 2000; Gisenyi, January 14, 2000; Mutura commune, February 24, 2000. 4 Human Rights Watch interviews, Tamira sector, Mutura commune, January 13 and February 24, 2000. 5 One spent shell found at Tamira was identified as a 5.56x45mm cartridge, such as would be used in a standard NATO weapon, like a M16; another was a 7.62x39mm cartridge, such as would be used in a standard Warsaw pact weapon, like an AK47. Place of origin was not readily recognizable for either, but one or both might have come from Albania. Analysis by Human Rights Watch Arms Division. 6 Human Rights Watch interviews, Mutura commune, January 13 and 31 and March 3, 2000. 7 Human Rights Watch interviews, Mutura commune, January 13, 2000. 8 Todd Pitman, "Rwandan Insurgents Spark Fear with New Massacre," Reuters, December 28, 1999. 9 Human Rights Watch interviews, Nkuli commune and Mutura commune, January 13 and 31, 2000.