Rwandan camp littered with Hutu corpses

`It was like a vision from hell. The hilltop was deserted except for dead bodies and crying babies sitting on their dead mothers'
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Kibeho - Corpses lay strewn around the ruins of Kibeho camp where more than 5,000 - possibly up to 8,000 - Hutu refugees were mown down by soldiers of the government's Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) or trampled to death in the panic that ensued.

Though government troops and United Nations forces had been burying the dead all day yesterday, about 2,000 bodies were still waiting to be collected as evening approached. Stretcher bearers walked from the centre of the human crush that caused most of Saturday's deaths to dump the bodies in pits.

Women and children crushed to death, men with their faces blown off and children ripped apart by grenades lay among the trampled remains of their belongings.

Only the dead, the badly wounded and up to 1,000 able-bodied people were left in the camp that had housed about 100,000 Hutus who for months had refused government orders to go home to their villages.

The survivors penned themselves into a compound after Saturday's slaughter, refusing to leave. The government troops threatened to take the compound by force if they defied the order.

UN troops at Kibeho, prevented by their peace-keeping mandate from forcibly halting the carnage, said the official count of 4,050 dead did not include many bodies moved by government soldiers at dawn yesterday.

"The RPA's first move this morning was to get rid of the dead," said one UN officer, who declined to be named. "Those corpses have been dumped in pit latrines, in shallow graves, anywhere the RPA could find," he added.

Most RPA soldiers are from Rwanda's Tutsi minority, which was the victim of a campaign of genocide by Hutu extremists last year.

In the capital, Kigali, Major Mark MacKay of the UN's Integrated Operations Centre, said the estimated number of dead was about 8,000.

The hillside opposite the Mdecins Sans Frontires hospital at Kibeho was specked with the bodies of those shot down by the RPA after Saturday'sstampede.

Another UN soldier said: "See that blob of red over there? That was a woman who had stood up with her hands in the air surrendering. They blew her away."

The RPA used all their weapons on the refugees. A mortar, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms were fired into a crowd of several thousands fleeing down the hill, witnesses said.

A second UN soldier said: "The RPA opened fire with everything they had; then they followed up and polished off the wounded. I saw several dozen killed and I cannot say how many died on that slope."

Paul Lowe, a photographer, described the scenes at Kibeho on Saturday as "like a vision from hell". "In driving rain, the refugees were cleared from the hilltop, which was deserted except for dead bodies and crying babies sitting on their dead mothers.

"One infant was suckling at its dead mother's breast. Young children walked through the mass of bodies crying `Papa, Mama'.

"Through the carnage walked RPA soldiers carrying umbrellas in one hand and long sticks in the other which they used to poke the people on the ground to see if there were any still alive," Mr Lowe said.

Seth Sendashongwa, Rwanda's Interior Minister, and the Justice Minister, Alphonse-Marie Nkubito, visited Kibeho yesterday but declined to speak to reporters. In Paris, the Rwandan Prime Minister, Faustin Twagiramungu, described the army's actions as a "legitimate response". He claimed anti- government Hutu militiamen inside Kibeho started the shooting.

The UN Force Commander, Major-General Guy Tousignant, also paid a visit but said he had not talked to the RPA about the tragedy. "I have not discussed what has happened, I have talked about what will happen to end this regrettable incident," Gen Tousignant, a Canadian, said. But UN and aid agency officials were complaining privately that the RPA was still hampering their efforts to treat the wounded and help the survivors. "They marched all the people who could walk out of the MSF hospital," one UN medical assistant said. "If you could hobble you had to go."

Aid workers said the back roads of the region were full of wounded, terrified refugees. One said he found abandoned children hiding in the bushes, crying.