Rwandan troops live off food aid

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The Independent Online
MUGUNGA - An estimated 20,000 defeated Rwandan troops are living off international food aid in the bush of Zaire and are giving no sign of preparing for a counter-attack or guerrilla operations into their homeland.

Their ranks depleted by disease and desertion, soldiers in uniform mixed with civilians yesterday at Mugunga camp, 15 miles (24km) west of the Zairean border town of Goma, collecting bags of United Nations food agency maize meal.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is co-ordinating the world relief effort for Rwanda, says it is not supplying the Rwandan troops with anything until they are out of uniform, when they will be classified as civilians.

Thousands of troops live in Mugunga among an estimated 300,000 refugees and hundreds more daily carry food three miles to a makeshift army camp in the bush. Perhaps 8 per cent of the food delivered to the camp by aid agencies is siphoned off by the defeated army.

'It is a major problem and has been going on far too long,' said a UNHCR spokesman. 'They are harassing the refugees, taking their food and intimidating them against going home. They fear if the refugees go back they will be left here alone, so want to keep them here until there is a settlement.'

The former Rwandan chief of staff, Major-General Augustin Bizimungu, told the BBC on Monday that the soldiers had regrouped and had no intention of disbanding. But he said they did not wish to renew the civil war and would seek talks with the new government in Kigali. The government has so far snubbed their overtures.

The UNHCR says they should disband, get out of uniform and integrate with their families as civilians. But Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko ruled they should be isolated in a separate site.

No Zairean troops patrol the road between Mugunga and the army camp deeper in the lush bush where soldiers lounge outside their tents. UN officials saw no sign that the troops were preparing for a new war. They do not parade or train and spend their time stealing food and waiting for a political solution.

GENEVA - Forty countries were yesterday at a pledging conference hosted by the UN, which said it expected donors to meet the target of dollars 434m ( pounds 284m) sought for the Rwanda emergency.