Rwanda: Life of misery for kin of ex-leader

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The Independent Online
NAPOLEON had Saint Helena. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos had Hawaii. The family of the late Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, has a seedy warehouse in a tiny lakeside port in eastern Zaire. Claiming they are penniless, hungry and shunned abroad, nearly 200 members of the former president's clan live on the dirt floors of unlit, five square metre rooms, that normally are used to store bags of unroasted coffee beans. A family representative said they beg international relief groups for food and medicine, to no avail.

In a humiliating reminder of its lost fortunes, two members of the family recently died from cholera, which has killed an estimated 20,000 Rwanda refugees in the region. 'We have been abandoned by everyone,' said Margerite Mary, a niece of the former president, and the spokesperson for the family. According to a United Nations spokesman, Panos Moumtvis, aid groups do not assist refugees outside officially designated sites. Mary said her family is too large to move to a refugee camp.

Exile for the families of ousted rulers is often ignominious, but seldom has it been so desolate. The tiny port on Lake Kivu, six miles south of Goma, is a collection of tattered shacks and crumbling warehouses - hardly the setting to which the Habyarimana family is accustomed. Outside the cramped storage room occupied by Mary, her husband and five children, a dozen potatoes - their only food for the day - boiled over a wood fire. Inside, her daughter, 16, sweated and stared at the ceiling. She is infected with cholera, said Mary, quietly weeping.

A Belgian-educated accountant, Mary was director of Rwanda's national insurance company, until she fled into Zaire, ahead of the troops of the Tutsi- led Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). Habyarimana's wife had already been evacuated to Paris by French troops in April.