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GOING HOME : 10,000 REFUGEES PER HOUR FLOOD RWANDAN BORDER.

Byline: Hrvoje Hranjski Associated Press

Every hour, 10,000 Rwandan Hutus trudged across the border to their homeland Saturday in a weary, rain-soaked column of humanity desperate to end the misery of their exile in eastern Zaire.

The refugees' unexpected return home eases the threat of a humanitarian disaster and is likely to alter the tack taken by an international military force cleared by the U.N. Security Council to bring food and medical supplies to the refugees.

More than 200,000 refugees have streamed over the border since the exodus began Friday morning, the United Nations estimates. A downpour Saturday drenched the 25-mile line of men, women and children making their way through green, winding hills from a now-deserted refugee camp and over the border into Gisenyi.

Fellow Rwandans lined the route beyond the border, applauding and hugging the refugees as they lugged their tattered bundles on a 20-mile slog from the border at Gisenyi to a U.N. transit center.

``I'm not afraid,'' said Pierre-Celestin Muyandekezi, a returning farmer. ``I'm very happy to be in my country.''

As night fell Saturday, up to 400,000 people on the Zairian side settled down to rest by the road before resuming their trek at daybreak. Another 600,000 Rwandan refugees remain cut off from aid in hills to the south.

The refugees fled Rwanda 2-1/2 years ago, fearing retribution after a Hutu-led government presided over the massacre of a half-million Tutsis.

Hutu militias in the refugee camps in Zaire virtually held the refugees prisoner until Thursday, when an attack by Zairian rebels sent the militias fleeing into the hills and the refugees hurrying home.

The Tutsi-led government that ousted the Hutu leaders after the 1994 genocide has promised to treat the returning Hutus well, and most refugees who returned earlier have resettled peacefully.

Amnesty International, however, said that the returning refugees could be arbitrarily punished and may wind up joining the 80,000 Hutus already in crowded Rwandan jails awaiting trial in connection with the genocide.

Rwandan leaders say there is no longer any need for military intervention, calling instead for aid in resettling refugees.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said plans for the international force were still on, but that the United States and its partners in the Canadian-led force will discuss the ramifications of the refugees' return.

``It will not eliminate the need for humanitarian support, (but) it will substantially change the nature of that need,'' Perry said.

``What is happening on the ground is changing quickly, and the force will have to adapt as well,'' U.N. envoy Raymond Chretien acknowledged as he arrived in the capital, Kigali, for talks with Rwandan leaders.

President Pasteur Bizimungu refused to meet with Chretien on Saturday, and delayed permission for an advance team of Canadian troops to land in Kigali.

Witnesses said Friday a group of advancing Zairian rebels massacred 30 Hutu civilians in the Mugunga refugee camp. It was the only reported violence.

Like many returning refugees, Muyandekezi said he wanted to come home earlier but did not dare because of threats from the Hutu militias that ruled the refugee camps.

Traveling with his sister and father, Muyandekezi struggled to balance a bundle of food, water cans and few possessions.

``They told us we had to wait,'' he said. ``I returned because it was not safe in Zaire anymore.''

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

Photo: (1) Thousands of mainly Hutu refugees cross the border at Gisenyi into Rwanda on Saturday.

(2) Rain-soaked refugees forming a 25-mile-long column make a steady exodus from the Mugunga camp in eastern Zaire.

(3) Refugee children collect corn that was thrown from a U.N. truck in the streets of Goma, Zaire. Thousands scrambled for food handouts before leaving for Rwanda.

Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Nov 17, 1996
Words:630
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