Zaire urges Rwanda refugees to go home by end of the month

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The Independent Online
GOMA - Zaire said yesterday it wanted the 1.2 million Rwandan refugees on its territory to leave by the end of the month and promised to stop Hutu militiamen terrorising refugees into staying. 'Our wish is that all the Rwandan refugees should leave by September 30, 1994,' said the Justice Minister, Kamanda Wa Kamanda.

Speaking at the start of a ministerial meeting with the Rwandan government, he said Zaire would encourage the refugees' return by halting the activities of Rwandans hostile to the new government in Kigali and disarming and encamping members of the former Rwandan government army, 28,000 of whom are in Zaire.

Aid officials say many Hutu refugees wishing to return have been frightened into staying by Hutu militiamen who accuse those thinking of leaving of taking sides with the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), which won the civil war and is dominated by members of the minority Tutsi community.

The RPF, while vowing to bring to justice Hutus guilty of killing hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, has been saying it is safe for ordinary Hutus to return home.

Mr Kamanda said Zaire would ensure Zairean territory was not used by Rwandans or anyone else seeking to destabilise Rwanda, and political and military activity would be banned in the camps.

On the Rwandan side, the Interior Minister, Seth Sendashonga, said his government had the guarantees it sought on security, but was less content with the Zairean response to its demand for the return of property taken when the army and former Hutu-led government fled to Zaire.

The ministerial meeting was postponed three times this week while teams of experts struggled to find common ground.

The new Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government wants the return of money, weapons, cars and machinery, including parts from the radio station in Kigali. It also wants assurances, following reports about a Rwandan training camp near Bukavu, that members of Rwanda's defeated army, many of whom still have their weapons, will not be allowed to launch a counter-attack on Kigali.

The refugees fled to Zaire after RPF forces routed the former army and allied militiamen who massacred Tutsis and moderate Hutus after the assassination of the Hutu President, Juvenal Habyarimana, on 6 April. The UN has estimated more than a million people were killed.

Zaire's Defence Minister, Admiral Mavua, called a minute's silence for the victims at the start of the meeting.

'We invite the non-governmental organisations to aid not just the Rwandans but also the local population threatened by food shortages and disease,' Mr Kamanda said, adding that he estimated one Zairean had died for every 10 Rwandans. Since the start of the exodus into eastern Zaire in mid-July, disease has claimed an estimated 46,000 lives.

The lakeside town of Goma, which has a population of 200,000, has been swamped by the arrival of 800,000 refugees, who were dying by the thousand every day at the height of July's cholera epidemic.

It is not clear whether the measures offered by Zaire will be enough to convince the refugees, some of whom started moving yesterday to a new purpose-built camp with better facilities. Aid workers said that they expected to move 1,500 people during the day from the crowded Kibumba camp to Kahindo, which has space for 60,000.

The refugees' flimsy shelters of sticks and plastic sheeting will offer little protection once the rainy season starts in earnest, which could happen as early as next week, and aid workers fear new outbreaks of disease.

(Photograph omitted)