Wary Hutus return reluctantly

FA ragged group of some 60 men, women and children were assembled outside the mayor's office in the village of Nyakizu by midday yesterday. Ten months after fleeing their community just 15 miles inside Rwanda's border with Burundi, they had returned home.

It was not a joyous homecoming. All were exhausted and barefoot, some had hastily bandaged head wounds, a few were in very sorry condition.

They had come, said a man with a cut on his scalp, from the displaced people's camp at Kibeho which lies about 30 miles north-west of Nyakizu. Some 2,000 Hutu inmates of the camp were shot and trampled to death there on Saturday and hundreds more were injured, according to figures compiled by the United Nations. Soldiers from the largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) are being blamed for the carnage.

The group waited patiently in line yesterday to be registered with the municipal authorities. More than 18,000 Hutus have in recent days returned to Nyakizu from Kibeho and the three other displaced people's camps in the Gikongoro area of south-western Rwanda. Up to a quarter of a million Hutus were living in these camps a week ago; now they are all but empty.

The people who have returned have done so against their will. Having fled ahead of the victorious advance of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front last year and fearing reprisals, they chose to live in teeming camps monitored by the UN and by international aid agencies. Some of the worst excesses of last year's genocide of more than half a million Tutsis were perpetrated in the south-west.

In the University Hospital at Butare, Rwanda's second city, are some 130 Hutus who have been wounded in recent violence. People are still being admitted with machete and other wounds. In the Mdecins sans Frontires hospital, 90 per cent of the patients being admitted have been shot from behind.

"None of those coming back are being killed or mistreated," insisted Ferdinand Nkurayija, assistant mayor of Nyakizu as the returnees queued up outside his office. Few of those waiting outside seemed to share Mr Nkurayija's certitude. Many were clearly terrified at the prospect of returning to this commune where thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered in the genocide which began just over a year ago.

Those now returning from the camps are assumed to contain a high proportion of killers. Why, if they are innocent, goes the reasoning, were they so scared to come home?

"I've recognised some murderers among the people who've come back in the last few days," said Ernest Rusibukira, one of whose children was murdered in last year's killing. "They will be punished in due course but we won't take our own revenge."

Mr Nkurayija maintained that even those suspected of complicity in the killings are treated fairly. According to hisrecords, 23 returnees were denounced in Nyakizu on Tuesday. Yet, he said, none were taken into custody. They would be allowed to settle in before any action was taken.

Yet behind the offices is a lock-up to which at least one of yesterday's returnees was taken. All requests to talk to those waiting to register were refused.

Near the village church where last year hundreds of Tutsis were butchered, a group of newly arrived Hutus were hiding in an outhouse. They said they could not go home as their properties had been taken over. "The war is not yet over," they said before a soldier's arrival silenced them. "That is why we waited so long to come back."

A woman who had registered was also able to speak away from the prying attentions of the RPA soldiers, who now fill Nyakizu. "We left Kibeho on Sunday after the killing took place," said Bernadette Nyiramaziga, who did not know whether or not her house had been taken. "There were piles of bodies lying everywhere. Many were killed by the soldiers' bullets but others were cut down by machetes and bayonets. We were frightened of leaving but we couldn't stay there either."