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Fear of new Zaire exodus as talks fail

Kinshasa (agencies)- Zaire could begin throwing out Rwandan refugees again this week after its talks in Kinshasa with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees broke up yesterday without accord on the future of 1 million homeless. Officials said the talks will continue in Geneva, where the UNHCR announced that its chief, Sadako Ogata, would meet the Zairean Prime Minister, Kengo wa Dondo, tomorrow.

"There could not be agreement here because the UNHCR wanted to consult at a higher level," a source said. "Expulsions could begin again this week if no agreement is found, and at this stage the signs are not good," said another government source before the talks broke down.

Zaire began to expel Rwandan and Burundian refugees from camps in the east of the country on 19 August. An outcry resulted, with protests from the UN Security Council and many Western countries calling for the forced repatriations to stop on humanitarian grounds. More than 1 million refugees fled wars in their own countries to Zaire, where they are accused of destroying the environment and economy and of introducing insecurity. Special envoy Carrol Faubert, on a mission for the UNHCR, has been meeting Zaire officials for four days trying to agree a formula to turn the forced expulsions into voluntary repatriations.

Since Zaire suspended the use of force to drive the refugees back to Rwanda, few have taken up the offer of the UNHCR to take them under its wing. The voluntary repatriation plan came to a halt on Saturday, when only 47 refugees crossed into Rwanda. The Rwandans are mostly from the Hutu majority and fled after the victory in July 1994 of rebels dominated by the Tutsi minority. Many feared reprisals for a campaign of genocide in which up to one million Tutsis were killed by Hutu soldiers and militias.

At the weekend the remaining refugees in Zaire rebuilt huts burned by Zairean soldiers last week after five days of terror aimed at forcing Rwandans to leave.

Adrien Kalinunda's family, however, did not wait for a political resolution. With his wife and six of their seven children, he boarded the single repatriation bus that chugged back to Rwanda on Saturday. Missing was 10-year-old Isabelle, who was rounded up and deported after Zairean soldiers attacked their camp last week.

Mr Kalinunda said he had wanted to go home for a long time, but extremist Hutu militias in the camps view those planning to return as traitors and sometimes kill them. "I think most people want to go back," he said. "They would have gone back a long time ago if they hadn't been prevented. But since the Zaireans attacked, the militias haven't raised their heads for a week. They're all hiding in the mountains."

The mayor, Mashako Mamba Sebi, summed up the exasperation of Goma's 200,000 people with the refugees who flooded in last year. "We are crushed here," he said. "What happened this past week was a good thing, because the international community was asleep. But if things don't move, we'll be obliged to start again."