Humanitarian corridor

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The Independent Online
Kigali (Reuter) - Zairean rebels have agreed to open a humanitarian corridor to reach more than a million Rwandan and Burundian refugees trapped and scattered by fighting in eastern Zaire, a United Nations official said yesterday.

Omar Backhet, resident representative of the UN Development Programme in Rwanda, said the first assessment teams to check on humanitarian needs and security would enter rebel-held eastern Zaire today.

"The teams will be made up of non-governmental agencies and within a day or two UN agencies should be able to go in as well," he said yesterday.

He spoke shortly after UN special envoy Raymond Chretien returned to the Rwandan capital on a mission he said was aimed at narrowing differences between Rwanda and Zaire on the war in eastern Zaire.

Rwanda opposes French participation in a proposed UN humanitarian force to police the battle zone and open up corridors for dying and starving refugees who fled fighting between rebels and Zaire's army.

The charity Medecins sans Frontieres said earlier yesterday that Rwanda had authorised aid agencies to deliver food and medicines from its territory to the rebel-held east.

MSF spokeswoman Samantha Boulton said the situation was particularly desperate for some 750,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees trapped in fighting outside Goma. She said the UN was seeking permission from the governments of Rwanda and Zaire to deliver food and medicines. European Commissioner Emma Bonino was expected in Kigali early today. She will be arriving from Kinshasa, where the government has ruled out safe havens for the refugees.

Zaire accuses Rwanda of backing the rebels but Kigali denies this.

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