Blind fear binds Hutus in desolate exile

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The Independent Online
RENOVAT RUGO listens to all the foreign radio stations: the BBC, Deutsche Welle, the Dutch and the French services. He is a measured thoughtful man, 43 years old, well educated and until recently an English teacher at a training college in Rwanda. Such people are rare in the vast refugee camp at Kibumba north of here. Most people are illiterate.

'I cannot trust the Tutsis,' says Mr Rugo. 'They are not honest. If a peasant returns to Rwanda who cannot read and write maybe he will have no problem but if you are educated they will kill you.'

I asked him if he would come back if I came with him. 'I would not,' he said, 'as long as you were with me they would leave me alone but when you were gone or in the night, they would come. They want to kill all educated Hutus.'

Looking across the vast crop of blue and green plastic hovels stretching across the plain from the slopes of dark looming volcanoes on each horizon, one concludes that the fear that makes this home to a quarter of a million people must indeed be deep. Cholera and dysentery killed about 50,000 refugees in a few days here and the death rate is still higher than any other human habitation. Misty through the smoke of thousands of wood fires, this is a horrorscape, perhaps the nearest hell has got to Earth. And it will get worse again. As we spoke the murky sky opened and marble-sized hail stones poured down sending people scurrying and crawling into their tents of stick and plastic. The rains usually last about two months and they will bring malaria and pneumonia.

Mr Rugo recounts horrific tales of Hutus returning to Rwanda having their eyes put out or their stomachs slit open. No witnesses to support these tales have been found by journalists or aid workers but the tales are widely believed.

The 'ardent wish' expressed by Kamanda wa Kamanda, the Zairean Minister for Justice, that all the Rwandese refugees should leave his country by the end of September is a pipe dream. He is reported to have assured aid workers privately that such a deadline is unrealistic and that the Zairean government simply wants to pressurise all parties to find a solution which will allow the refugees to return. No one I spoke to in the camps yesterday could conceive of a political solution that would dispense the fear and hatred quickly.

Another teacher in Kibumba camp who asked not to be quoted by name said that even if the Zairean army came and shot at the refugees they would not go back because they would prefer to die by a bullet here than be chopped by a machete back in Rwanda. Another said that the new Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) government regarded all returning Hutus as spies for the defeated government army.

At the border there are a few families with their meagre bundles waiting to cross and make their way home. There may be as many as 3,000 a day trickling back according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees but compared to the estimated 840,000 still in Zaire this is a trickle and yesterday the new Rwandan authorities picked up 700 returnees just across the border and screened them.

None is reported to have been held but by the time this fact reaches the camps it will no doubt have been distorted into a terrifying rumour.

Efforts by the UNHCR to arrange the return of refugees have failed so far. Most people do not go back because they are frightened that the RPF soldiers will kill them.

There have been several abductions and summary executions by the RPF soldiers. Independent witnesses have seen men being taken from cars or in the street. Some of these cases may be soldiers seeking revenge. Others may be a result of the policy of finding those responsible for the massacres. But there has been no evidence of an official policy of killing Hutus or returning refugees.

Some observers have speculated that the refugees feel guilty because among them are many who carried out the massacres of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in April and May. Mr Rugo and three other witnesses to massacres in Rwanda said that the massacres had not just been carried out by militias but that everyone joined in, even women and children.

'No they do not feel guilty now,' said Mr Rugo. 'They thought they would be successful, they thought they would get rid of all the Tutsis. They failed. Now the bad seed has been sown. They are seeds of hatred and they are in these little children you see here.

'This is a very long story and it is going to continue.'

(Map omitted)