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Arming Africa: Peace force reschedules meeting as events overtake plans

Gisenyi - The United States military said yesterday that a meeting in Germany of countries participating in a Canadian-led force to help refugees in Zaire had been rescheduled to a day later than originally planned.

"I have been told that the meeting will be on Thursday," said US Navy Captain Timothy Taylor, director of public affairs for the US European Command in Stuttgart. The European Command will host the meeting, to be led by Canada.

In Kinshasa the European Union envoy Aldo Ajello said yesterday that Europe could not recognise the authority of the Rwandan-backed Zairean rebels who have taken over a strip along the eastern frontier.

He also suggested that the planned international force for Zaire should have the mandate to help the government to reassert its authority in the area.

Britain, France and Spain said earlier yesterday that they expected the mission to go ahead with a redefined plan to open up humanitarian corridors to aid refugees.

After three days at full flood, the flow of refugees out of Zaire into Rwanda slowed yesterday, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimating that some 500,000 Hutu refugees were already home. "We have a 60-km human caterpillar moving from Gisenyi to the other side of Ruhengeri," a UNHCR spokesman, Ray Wilkinson, said.

Zaire's Tutsi rebels, who have close links with Kigali, also announced they would open a corridor in the Bukavu region so that tens of thousands of other refugees could also return.

More than 200 refugees were chased from a Red Cross hospital in Gisenyi by men wielding sticks on the orders of the Rwandan government. They were loaded into a lorry and taken to a refugee camp further inland. The attack came as the Medecins sans Frontieres charity announced 50 confirmed cases of cholera among the refugees.

Meanwhile, a Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that Switzerland has denied a visa to Zaire's ailing ruler, Mobutu Sese Seko, who is in France and wants to return to the country for medical treatment.