Disease delays return to Rwanda

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AS BRITISH and American troops flew to Rwanda to assist in the delivery of aid yesterday, relief agencies argued over whether more than 2 million refugees who have fled the country should return to their homes yet.

The advance party of the 600- strong British contingent is due in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, this morning. They will be met by an American force of 200 who have been arriving since Sunday. Both governments have stressed that their troops are there for humanitarian purposes and will not get involved in peace-keeping. The rest of the British force, engineers, a medical unit and logistical support troops, are expected to arrive later this week.

But can they create conditions to allow the refugees to return? The Prime Minister of the new government in Rwanda, Faustin Twagiramungu, has called on the international community to help the refugees to return. 'You cannot rule a country without a population or you would be like a government of the Sahara Desert,' he said. But when World Food Programme lorries carried 700 refugees back to Rwanda from refugee camps in eastern Zaire on Sunday, other aid agencies objected that moving refugees would risk spreading cholera. About 16 refugees, suspected of having the disease, were turned away by a hospital which could not isolate them. 'If you now bring everyone down to Kigali you create a little Goma (refugee camp) in Rwanda,' said Dr Jean-Emmanuel Lalive of the Red Cross.

Fear rather than disease still prevents the refugees, most of them Hutus, from returning to a country now ruled by the Rwanda Patriotic Front, which is mainly Tutsi. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, said in Rwanda yesterday that she would not tell the refugees to go home until the new government showed it could keep its promises to protect them. UNHCR says it wants to avoid a stampede back before Kigali, badly damaged by months of fighting, is ready for them and cholera and dysentery are brought under control.

Calming fears, page 10

(Photograph omitted)