Hutus return to camps as Zaire halts expulsion

CHEGE MBITIRU

Associated Press

Goma (AP) - Thousands of Hutus returned to their refugee camps yesterday after Zaire stopped expulsions to Rwanda and Burundi, United Nations officials said, easing fears of a new humanitarian disaster.

It was unclear for how long the Zairean army had stopped the forced repatriation of refugees along its eastern border. "We are currently seeking assurances that this suspension will continue tomorrow," said Chris Bowers, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Goma.

The UNHCR negotiator, Carrol Faubert, met the Zairean Prime Minister, Kongo Wa Dondo, in Kinshasa to formalise the suspension, the agency's spokesman, Ron Redmond, said in Geneva.

In Zaire, aid workers with loudspeakers took to the hills to persuade tens of thousands of Hutus who had gone into hiding to return to their camps.

Zaire army colonels in Bukavu and Uvira said that the expulsions had stopped, UN officials said. Troops did not show up at camps near Goma to continue the forced repatriations as expected.

"The refugees have started to stream back in their thousands to all 11 camps at Uvira. Some are starting to rebuild their huts," said Fernando Del Mundo, a UNHCR spokesman in Geneva. Thousands of others, he added, had begun to return to their camps in Bukavu.

The expulsions halted as abruptly as they began last Saturday, when Zairean troops entered the massive refugee camps and forced residents at gunpoint on to buses or on foot to cross the borders. Some huts were torched and there were unconfirmed reports of rape and theft by Zairean soldiers.

By Thursday, more than 13,000 people had been sent home and 173,000 fled into the Zairean countryside with scant food and water. Aid officials feared outbreaks of disease and starvation.

Peter Kessler, a UNHCR spokesman in Nairobi, said the expulsions by Zaire might revive the agency's voluntary repatriations, which have become bogged down because of refugees' fears of being killed if they go home. "The Zaireans clearly sent a message to the refugee community that asylum fatigue is setting in a big way," said Mr Kessler. "We think clearly most of the people can go back to Rwanda. Most are not guilty of participating in the genocide."

Mr Bowers said there is evidence, including confidential letters from camp leaders to the UNHCR, that a good number of the 170,000 refugees in one camp near Goma are willing to return home. The International Organisation for Migration, an intergovernmental agency working with the UNHCR, said it was making plans to help in the voluntary return of 2,000 to 3,000 Rwandans per day. It has 135 trucks and buses with capacity to transport 6,000 people per day.

Zaire has been awash with Hutu refugees since July 1994, after Tutsi- led rebels captured Rwanda and toppled the extremist Hutu regime that orchestrated the genocide of about 500,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Officials have complained that the 1.8 million refugees in the country, the highest refugee total in the world, have disrupted life in border areas and caused environmental damage. Zaire also viewed the refugees as a major security risk after the UN lifted an arms embargo against Rwanda last week.

Zaire feared that battles between the Tutsi-led Rwandan government and Hutu extremists in the refugee camps would erupt on its side of the border.

n

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Polish Speaking Buying Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Superb opportunity for a BUYING...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers personalise...

Recruitment Genius: Key Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project