According to the UN special envoy to Rwanda, Shaharyar Khan, both Tanzania and Zaire have lost patience with the 1.5 million refugees living in sprawling camps on their borders and want them back in their country of origin. "In their own words they [Tanzania and Zaire] have said enough talk. Let's have some action," Mr Khan said yesterday upon his return to Kigali from a visit to Dar es Salaam and Kinshasa.
The plan, only tentative, would involve special Zairean and Tanzanian military units moving into the camps to restore order, weed out troublemakers and encourage the refugees to return home. Both countries, Mr Khan said, were eager to address the issue of security in the camps but the plan was dependent on UN Security Council approval for logistical and operational support, especially for Zaire.
Although Mr Khan gave no details, UN sources said the only concrete programme worked out involves the Zairean border town of Goma. They said the plan calls for the deployment of 2,500 "crack" Zairean troops and a token UN force of 125 men. The force would go into the camps around Goma to enforce law and order among the 750,000 refugees there. The sources said Kinshasa wanted the camps closed by May, when elections are due in Zaire.
Past efforts by the Zaireans to police the camps have often resulted in disaster, with both soldiers and refugees being killed. This operation would be different, Mr Khan said, because Zaire promised to send only disciplined troops in a carefully plannedoperation with UN back-up.
Refugee camps in both Zaire and Tanzania have been taken over by members of Rwanda's former extremist Hutu regime, responsible for the massacres last April of hundreds of thousands of people, mainly minority Tutsis. The extremists have seized control of the distribution of aid in the camps, and intimidate or kill refugees who want to return to Rwanda. The refugees are the extremists'
last asset, a potential bargaining chip with the international community.
The UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has called on the Security Council either to back an international force to police the camps or support the efforts of local countries to restore law and order in the refugee centres. But according to Mr Khan: "There's no positive response to providing forces on the ground to form the contingents that would address the law and order issue in Zaire."
The plan involving a regional force seems the only option, but there are big questions over whether it is up to the task. It is also unclear whether Zaire wants to clear out civilians, leaving behind the former Rwandan army which has been carrying out raids in Rwanda with impunity.
Mr Khan acknowledged that the former government has embarked on a low-level insurgency campaign to destabilise Rwanda's new government. This has simply added urgency to the need to resolve the problems of the refugee camps. "We are really face to face with a situation which is not only leading to tensions in the camps but is allowing this tension to spill over into relations between the states themselves," he said.
A regional summit to address the refugee camp problem will be held in Nairobi today. Kenya will host the meeting of the presidents of Burundi, Rwanda, Zaire, Tanzania and Uganda. Discussion will focus on ways to get the refugees to leave, including possibly creating a UN-patrolled security corridor in Rwanda.Reuse content