Banditry takes hold in Rwanda camps

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The Independent Online
GOMA (Reuter) - Five people were killed this weekend in Goma in the teeming refugee camps of eastern Zaire, as banditry and mob violence take their toll. Aid officials said that two men and a woman were killed on Sunday morning in Mugunga, a camp of 200,000 to the west of Goma, during fights over plastic sheeting.

'As the rains approach, plastic sheeting is becoming a more precious commodity and only 50 per cent of the refugees have been supplied so far,' said Ray Wilkinson, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In central Goma the 15- year-old son of a local aid worker was killed by a grenade he had picked up in the street. His brother, 10, lost an eye.

In Kituku, a smaller camp near Lake Kivu, a Hutu who was calling for refugees to return to their homes in Rwanda, was surrounded by a crowd, accused of being in league with the Tutsi-dominated Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) government in Kigali and beaten to death.

The Kituku killings follow a pattern established in the camps, where Hutu militiamen are doing their best to prevent a mass return to Rwanda, now in the hands of the RPF. Refugees who try to leave are systematically accused of being spies and are often lynched by the suspicious crowds, urged on by the militiamen.

Confronted with this level of hostility, the UNHCR has had to abandon many of its repatriation plans, or carry them out secretly in the early hours of the morning. Officials say only about half of Rwanda's farmers are back on their land and that half of the country's population needs emergency food aid. The UNHCR did, however, succeed at the weekend in repatriating 400 refugees from the Rwandan town of Cyangugu on the southern banks of Lake Kivu, Mr Wilkinson said.

The issue of providing security to refugees who want to return is one of the items on the agenda at talks taking place in Goma between Zairean and Rwandan government experts. The Rwandans have come with a list of demands. They want the Zairean army to provide returnees with an armed escort and they want refugees' weapons to be confiscated.

They also want an explanation of reports that the Zaireans are helping 20,000 former Rwandan government troops to regroup and train, with a view to launching a counter-attack on Rwanda.

(Photograph omitted)