Zairean troops force out Hutus

Click to follow
The Independent Online

of Reuters

Mugunga Camp, Zaire - The Zairean army commander was uncompromising.

"The logic of the military starts where the civilian logic ends," he said, fondling a pistol strapped to his belt. "It is time for you to leave."

As he spoke, a truck loaded with gun-toting Zairean soldiers and personal belongings of Rwandan refugees rumbled past. Refugee children by the roadside scattered in panic.

The scene yesterday at a Zairean army roadblock outside the sprawling Mugunga camp in eastern Zaire, where hundreds of Rwandan Hutu refugees are being forcibly deported by Zairean troops, was one of chaos.

Zaire, frustrated by the presence of more than 1 million Rwandan refugees on its soil and annoyed by Western claims that it has been aiding the former Rwandan army which led a genocide of minority Tutsis last year, began mass deportations on Saturday.

Throughout yesterday, refugee women and men ordered to leave trudged out of the camp with children in tow before being forced into trucks, cardboard boxes and bundles of personal belongings balanced on their heads.

Mugunga camp, on the shores of picturesque Lake Kivu near Zaire's border with Rwanda, was once a bustling town home to 150,000 refugees with more than 100 restaurants, snack bars and even makeshift movie houses.

But yesterday, scenes of destruction and panic were everywhere.

"The Zairean soldiers told us to go back to our country. Those who said no, they beat up with sticks," said Syridion Nsengum Uremyi, 24. "People are very afraid."

Sporadic gunfire was heard near the camp and there were unconfirmed reports of gunshot wounds to refugees. There was widespread looting by Zairean troops, some of them from the presidential guard and some local troops unpaid for months, UN officials said.

"Unfortunately, there has been some rather intensive looting of personal property by Zairean forces," said Carrol Faubert, UNHCR special envoy for Rwanda and Burundi. "A forcible return is a factor of insecurity in the region. If it happened voluntarily, with people going smiling and chanting, it would be much more promising for the future than what we are seeing now."

Thick white palls of smoke from huts burning in the distance hang over Mugunga, sealed off by Zairean troops who denied access to aid workers and foreign journalists.

"There have been a lot of shops and huts on fire," the UNHCR envoy added.. "Some of it seems to have been on the part of refugees themselves as they were leaving. But there were some reports of soldiers putting fire to various places."

The roadside outside the camp was swarming with people and their belongings. Armed Zairean troops and plainclothes officers were everywhere.

Crossing into the no-man's land between the Zairean and Rwandan border, there was a blind man, a woman with a one-day-old child born on Sunday in Mugunga, a man in a wheelchair and people on crutches.