Zaire exodus: 700,000 heading for home

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The Independent Online
Like water finding its own level after a damburst, Rwandan Hutus flooded across the Zaire border into their home country yesterday, writes Raymond Whitaker. By nightfall 200,000 had returned from two years of exile in refugee camps, and half a million more were reported to be on the way. It was one of the most sudden and dramatic shifts of people this century.

The Hutu militia fighters who committed genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and kept nearly a million of their countrymen hostage in eastern Zaire had fled, dislodged by a new military force which sprang up only a few weeks ago. As soon as the intimidation was lifted, the refugees headed home.

Whoever the Zaire rebels are, and whoever is backing them, the refugee exodus means that Africa has tackled a problem of its own making. The intervention force being assembled by the international community would never have been willing or able to deal with the Hutu militias. Past aid to the refugees in Zaire had simply made matters worse, by also sustaining those who prevented them going home.

Although the crisis has not yet solved itself - hundreds of thousands are still roaming eastern Zaire - the US Defence Secretary, William Perry, last night admitted that the multinational force might change its plans. But what could have been a nightmare is turning into a logistical exercise, and some light has fallen on what everyone has been calling the heart of darkness.

UN breathes again, page 4

Mobutu profile, page 19