Aid workers bury thousands of Rwanda's bloated corpses

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The Independent Online
BODIES from the massacres in Rwanda are flowing into Lake Victoria, as emergency teams work against the clock to avert outbreaks of diseases in villages near the lake. About 3,500 decomposing corpses have been taken from the Ugandan shore of the lake and buried during the past week. Aid workers say the clear-up operation could take at least 10 days.

Three lakeside districts have been declared disaster areas by the Ugandan government, which has appealed to the international community for more than pounds 130,000 in emergency aid.

Mounds of bodies are shovelled into mass graves and covered with lime. The stench is appalling. Wearing face masks and rubber gloves, international volunteers and local staff toil to dispose of the corpses, which have floated from Rwanda down the Kagera.

'From a helicopter I counted more than a thousand bodies along a 30-mile stretch of waterline and I am sure there were hundreds more hidden underneath the weeds,' said Tony Cockayne of the United States Agency for International Development, which is managing the clean-up operation. 'It looks like an immense battlefield from up there. Along one three-mile stretch, there were nearly 400 corpses. Initially we put the number at about 5,500 dead in the lake, but our pilots say it is much higher.'

Aid agencies believe more than 40,000 bodies have been carried into Lake Victoria recently. Many are said to be HIV-positive.

The bodies, bleached and bloated from many weeks in the water, are spread out over 90 miles of shoreline. Most victims were Tutsis, butchered by machete- wielding death squads drawn from Rwanda's majority Hutu tribe. Some were beheaded, while others had their hands tied behind their backs before being killed. Some men were castrated.

'We believe many of the bodies have travelled up to 300 miles along the Kagera before reaching the mouth of the lake,' said Martin Dillon of the Lutheran World Federation, which is co-ordinating the burial operation.

At the beginning of the month more than 500 bodies were floating down the river every week. Bodies are now being removed from the Kagera before they are carried out into the lake.

Using fishing canoes, the volunteers drag them to the bank where they are wrapped in plastic sheeting. The bodies are then towed along the shore, in batches of 15 and 20, to sites where they are collected by dump trucks. They are then taken to one of nine mass graves. Local volunteers and aid workers face appalling psychological stress. One local man who discovered three babies skewered on a spear has been completely traumatised. Some workers are falling victim to unidentified illnesses.

KIGALI - A United Nations envoy, Iqbal Riza, said yesterday Rwanda's rebels and government troops, battling for the capital, assured him they were committed to a political solution to end their civil war, Reuter reports. Mr Riza was speaking after two hours of talks with the Rwandan army chief, Augustine Bizimungu.

(Photograph omitted)