Vengeful Hutus prey on camp refugees

IN REFUGEE camps in and around Goma, forces of the former Hutu government are doing all they can to keep Rwandans in Zaire in a state of misery and despair. They move among the crowds, spreading stories about how the victorious Tutsi rebel forces in Rwanda are killing Hutu refugees who dare to return. Their aim is to stop people going home.

'Everybody who stayed behind in Rwanda has been massacred and their eyes have been taken out,' said a well-dressed man, who said he was 'a simple farmer' from south-western Rwanda.

Standing in the sprawling Mugunga refugee camp just outside Goma, near a bare patch of black volcanic rock that has been turned into a burial ground for dozens of cholera victims, the man who refused to give his name attacked journalists for asking people if they thought about going back to Rwanda.

'Why are you asking these questions? Why do you think everyone has fled here if they (the forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Front) are not going to kill them?' he said. The crowd which had gathered around him repeated the questions and nodded in agreement.

The repatriation of the Rwandan refugees in Zaire is now the main goal of the international relief effort, according to Peter Hanson, the head of the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, who visited refugee camps in eastern Zaire yesterday. By Mr Hanson's own admission the situation in Goma, where 1.2 million refugees live in a state of squalor, is out of control.

Cholera is a serious problem, but the mortality rate from the disease seems to be dropping. The humanitarian airlift to help deal with the crisis is now a 24-hour operation. Although there are signs that the massive relief effort is having a positive effect, the situation in Goma is still dire. 'Humanitarian assistance is not the solution. Repatriation is the ultimate goal', Mr Hanson told a press conference yesterday.

But the former Hutu government officials who fled to Zaire after the victory of the RPF last week do not want to let their base of support, and their main claim to power, leave the country. Hutu leaders have encouraged the massive exodus from Rwanda and are citing the presence of the refugees in Zaire as proof that the RPF cannot govern. They keep up a stream of propaganda, through officials and former members of the militias, to dissuade the spontaneous return of refugees.

The situation in Goma is so bad that many people disregard the warnings and decide to take their chances and go home, rather than live amid disease and death.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Goma, 1,000 Rwandans crossed the Zairean border yesterday to go home. Relief officials believe the real number of people who have decided to return to Rwanda over the past few days is many times that, but that the movement is not big enough to make a dent in the numbers of refugees who remain.

''Those people who are supposedly returning are not real. It is just a scenario. The RPF is dressing up like civilians to make it seem like people are going back,' the 'farmer' from Butari said.

After the man spoke his piece and left, a group of three young men approached journalists to ask if it was true that people were returning safely to Rwanda. 'That man works for the government,' a man from Ruhengeri said of the 'farmer'. 'We don't believe what he said but we don't have confidence in going back either.'

Apollonaire Habyarimana, a former accountant from Kigali, said that there are people in each refugee camp who have instructions from the former Hutu authorities to spread what he called a 'certain line.'

'They advise the people, most of whom are uneducated and don't argue with what they are told.'

UN officials want to counteract the propaganda and are planning to post UN troops in the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi, about a mile from Goma, to reassure refugees that it is safe to go home. Major-General Romeo Dellaire, the head of the UN forces in Rwanda, visited Gisenyi yesterday and promised to post troops on the border today. 'We must help the Rwandans in Rwanda,' he said.

Aid agencies are also preparing to open offices in Gisenyi and are discussing the possibility of establishing health care centres along the roads, to feed and care for those who return. Repatriation, however, is expected to be a slow process. The horrors of Goma may speed up the process, no matter what the Hutu leaders say.

Pointing at the pile of bodies in the Mugunga camp, the young man from Ruhengeri said: 'Look at that. It is better to die in your own country than to die like this.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen