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Fear stalks Zairean camps

(Photograph omitted)

GOMA - Flouting international calls for repatriation, loyalists to the former Rwanda government continue their campaign to discourage the estimated 1.2 million Rwandans in eastern Zaire from returning home, a UN official said today, writes Craig Nelson.

As a result, a majority of Rwandans who fled across the frontier more than two weeks ago do not yet believe it is safe to return home, said Ray Wilkinson, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) which heads the relief effort.

The dissemination of what Mr Wilkinson terms 'lies, horror stories' is carried out by followers of the former Hutu- dominated regime in five vast refugee camps. They control the distribution of food and threaten refugees with torture if they return home.

The opposition campaign to undermine the new Kigali government also includes positive inducements. Two days ago, a UN official saw two luxury cars with Rwandan licence plates in one refugee camp. Spouting from the car windows into the hands of hungry, penniless refugees were showers of crisp Rwandan francs.

The UN has asked Zairean authorities to move into the camps. But the security forces here are viewed as ineffectual, demonstrating adroitness only in relieving Rwandan refugees of their few possessions as they crossed into Zaire two weeks ago. The Zairean government was closely allied with the ousted Hutu-dominated regime and is unlikely to rein in its exiled functionaries.

Mr Wilkinson said the 20 permanent UN personnel assigned to oversee the refugee camps have been directed to tell the hundreds of thousands of Rwandans there that it is safe for them to return home.