Army in exile sits on a smoking volcano

Human rights groups say the banished architects of the genocide in Rwanda are preparing for a violent return to their country; There could be an offensive against the Rwandan army in September
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The Independent Online

Goma, Zaire

A portrait of the late President Juvenal Habyarimana surveys the headquarters of the former Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) in eastern Zaire from the window of an abandoned bus. Elsewhere on the base of this exiled army are scattered tents and dilapidated vehicles. But there are few soldiers and no visible evidence of military activity.

FAR headquarters lie at the end of a potholed and muddy track, a short drive from Mugunga, one of the largest Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire. Some young men in fatigues lounge by a wooden barrier at the entrance to the base but security is scant and there are no weapons in sight.

"There's no military training going on here; we couldn't have training on Zairean territory," says Lieutenant-Colonel Juvenal Bahufite, a FAR spokesman. "We're refugees like so many others. We're simply waiting for a solution which might allow everyone to go home. But we've neither the permission of the Zairean authorities nor the means to undertake training". In the last month, two human rights organisations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have produced reports asserting that the exiled architects of last year's Rwandan genocide are rebuilding their military structure for a violent return to Rwanda. Human Rights Watch accuses France, Zaire and South Africa of supplying arms to the former Rwandan regime while Amnesty says that illegal shipments are coming from Bulgaria and Albania.

"I think this is propaganda," affirms Colonel Bahufite. "We have never received arms. It's been said that planes carrying arms have been landing secretly at Goma airport. If all these rumours were true, we wouldn't still be here. We'd probably be somewhere inside Rwanda. But for the moment we don't envisage using force to return there. War is out of the question while there's still hope the situation can be resolved by dialogue and international mediation."

It is year since more than two million Rwandans, mostly Hutus, fled ahead of the victorious advance of the largely Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front. More than a million Rwandans settled in refugee camps just inside the Zairean border. Among them were 30,000 FAR troops and thousands of Hutu extremist militiamen whose brutality accounted for the genocide of more than 500,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

Assorted uniforms are worn around the refugee camps but there are no signs of rearmament or training. If there are arms caches, they are secreted in the forests. Any training is taking place at night in the bush. "In the last few months, we're seeing far fewer young men in the streets around the camps," says Elizabeth Reglat, a field officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "This happened suddenly. I believe a lot of the young men have gone away somewhere."

What is certain is that aid agencies in Goma have noticed a growing tension in the region. One rumour holds that the FAR will launch an offensive against the Rwandan army in September, once the rainy season is over. Other scenarios envisage increased levels of guerrilla activity and large- scale incursions into Rwanda. A pre-emptive strike by the Rwandese Patriotic Army been not been ruled out.

"It's very difficult to know the state of preparation of those extremists who would like to return by force," says Joel Boutroue, representative of the UNHCR and chief of security for humanitarian organisations in Goma. "But the longer we wait, the more grim the prospects are. We're drawing up a list of less essential staff with a view to a partial evacuation. In fact, we're about to do an evacuation rehearsal and are tightening up our plans in case there's an attack from either side."

Goma's camps are built on lava. In the last week, the volcano behind Mugunga has started smoking. It is hard to tell whether an eruption is imminent. But, as with rumours of the Rwandan war restarting, the warning signs are there.