Aid effort reeling as 1,200 Rwandan refugees die a day

THE DEAD are wrapped in straw mats or cloth, tied up with rope and left on the roadside like rubbish.

The anonymous bundles line the streets of Goma. Among them are the ill. More dead than alive, children, men and women, young and old, lie in the dust with their hands over their heads waiting for death to come. Soon they too will be wrapped up to await collection.

French soldiers and members of the Irish relief agency, Goal, who collect the bodies, have stopped keeping a detailed account after the number of dead they had collected reached 7,000 on Friday. The exact number of those who have succumbed to cholera, dehydration and exhaustion may never be known. But one thing is certain, the dying has not stopped.

The Zaire government finally opened its border with Rwanda yesterday after preventing people from returning homewards for two days, and about 600 left through the border crossing, joining the thousands who had already left for Rwanda through the bush.

Relief workers said they estimated that as many as 65,000 people have contracted cholera and about half of them are expected to die in the next few days. They put the rate of death at 1,200 a day.

An international aid effort joined yesterday by the American military, which air-dropped food into a refugee camp north of Goma, is struggling to treat the sick and bring in water purification plants. It will be days before the situation comes under control.

In the meantime, the number of dead defies belief. Goma is so overwhelmed with corpses that yesterday afternoon Zairean civilians dragged seven bodies into the street to use as a road block a mile from the city's airport. The Zaireans were asking drivers to either take one or two bodies to the mass grave down the road or to give them money. 'No one is giving us any assistance. So put a body in your car, pay to continue your journey, or turn back,' said a Zairean man standing before the macabre barricade.

The French insist that it is up to the Zairean government to deal with those corpses outside the city. 'Our job is to collect the dead in Goma. My soldiers are busy collecting bodies 15 hours a day,' said the French military spokesman in Goma, Colonel Didier Bolleli. 'But there are so many bodies outside the city no one can collect them. It is the main health problem now. I just don't have enough soldiers to collect more. Like you I'm astounded by the number of dead' the colonel added.

The situation in Goma has reached such a critical level that many Rwandans who fled to Zaire because of their fear of the mainly Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) are now willing to face the risks of going back home rather than stay and face the odds of dying from cholera.

Zaire closed its border with Rwanda for two days, but well over 1,000 refugees bribed border officials at the weekend to make their way home. The road from the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi to the north-western city of Ruhengeri was lined with a steady stream of small groups of men, women, and children.

The refugees have become the object of a tug-of-war between Rwanda's former extremist Hutu government and the RPF. Although the RPF now controls 75 per cent of Rwanda, that territory consists of empty villages and deserted towns. The RPF wants the refugees to return to help rebuild the country. The Hutu extremist leaders, on the other hand, have encouraged the massive exodus from Rwanda and are citing the presence of more than a million refugees in Zaire as proof that the RPF cannot govern the country.

'I have decided to go home because of cholera and also because I now recognise the war is over,' said Faustin Nzabonima, a 30- year-old merchant from Ruhengeri, who with hundreds of others yesterday was walking the 40 miles from Gisenyi to Ruhengeri.

The Zaireans closed the border at the weekend to prevent refugees from leaving the town, citing the danger of unexploded ordnance as the reason for their action. But yesterday, the Zairean Prime Minister, Kengo Wagongo, declared that there was no reason to keep the border shut.

But not everyone could escape the legacy of Goma. Several men and women, obviously suffering frm the ravages of cholera and dehydration and too weak to make the journey, were collapsing at the roadside just yards from the frontier. Others, dazed and sick, pushed on, apparently attempting to at least return home to die.

Pointing towards Goma, where members of the Hutu government fled after the RPF victory last week, RPF Lieutenant Faustin Kaliisa said: 'Those people over there created this. Now we're the ones who must face it.'

KIGALI - Rwanda's new Prime Minister indicated yesterday there are splits within the government, AP reports. Faustin Twagiramungu, objecting to comments by the President, Pasteur Bizimungu, that elections would not be called for at least five years, warned that Rwanda risked falling into a dictatorship.

'We have to get to elections. And if I win, don't kill me, please. Don't take your guns or machetes and kill me or cut my head off,' Mr Twagiramungu said.

(Photograph omitted)

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam