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AID WORKERS TRY RETURNING TO ZAIRE.

Byline: James C. McKinley Jr. The New York Times

Ten days after pulling out of the Zairian town of Goma because of a siege by rebels, U.N. officials and aid workers made a tentative attempt to return Monday, crossing the nearby border from Rwanda with a shipment of medicine and food in the hope of reaching hundreds of thousands of needy refugees.

U.N. officials contacted the main leader of the rebels holding the looted town, who had invited them to bring aid, and took in a modest amount of food, medicine, and blankets for the beleaguered residents by truck, officials said.

But the team made almost no progress in negotiating safe passage through a war zone to the largest camp for Rwandan refugees, known as Mugunga, officials said.

Hundreds of thousands of the refugees are believed to be in Mugunga or scattered in the countryside to the west of the camp. They are believed to be running short of food and clean water.

Aid officials fear a calamity from epidemics and famine if medicine, clean water and food do not arrive soon, and they were hoping that the United Nations and the countries that are debating whether to take part in a relief force to aid the refugees will reach a decision quickly.

The U.N. officials who entered Goma on Monday were acting in defiance of the Zairian government, which has insisted that all aid to the refugees go through Kinshasa, the capital, which is 900 miles away. U.N. officials said the decision to go ahead with the mission had been made by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Mugunga, a sprawling tent city, lies about nine miles west of Goma. The rebels hold the town, but only up to a checkpoint about a half-mile from the camp. Beyond that, most of the territory is still under the control of Rwandan Hutu militias, who have joined the Zairian army in fighting the rebels.

These Hutu armed forces fled Rwanda in 1994 along with more than 1 million refugees as Tutsi-led forces won control of the country.

The Hutu forces have been rearming themselves. Many fled Rwanda to escape reprisals for mass killings of Tutsi civilians. They have fought hard to keep the mass of innocent Hutu refugees from returning home, using them as a human shield and a bargaining chip in negotiations with the United Nations and aid agencies, U.N. officials said. The militias are known as the ``interhamwe,'' which means ``those who fight together'' in the Rwandan language.

Thousands of the Rwandan refugees in the camps around Goma have been cut off from sources of food and other aid in recent weeks as a rebel alliance of Tutsi and other ethnic groups opposed to Zaire's government has captured three major eastern Zairian cities, including Goma.

``The big hole in all of this is that no one is talking to the other guys with the guns,'' said one aid official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ``We can make any agreement we want with all these parties in Goma, but there is one party missing.''
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 12, 1996
Words:516
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