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Zaire Steps Up Its Expulsion of Rwandans

August 23, 1995|From Associated Press

GOMA, Zaire — Setting fire to huts and looting aid camps, Zairian soldiers forced thousands of refugees back to Rwanda on Tuesday. An additional 60,000 refugees fled into the hills to escape the expulsions.

U.N. spokesman Ron Redmond said the removal of refugees from camps in eastern Zaire could turn into a disaster if not stopped. Despite protests from Rwanda and the United Nations, Zaire gave no indication it is going to slow the exodus that sent 10,000 Rwandans across the border Tuesday.

Zaire began expelling refugees Saturday, but Tuesday's operation was by far the largest. Officials gave no explanation, but Zaire appeared to be pressuring the United Nations to find another country to take the refugees.

In Washington, State Department spokesman David Johnson said Zaire was violating international law and could precipitate a "human disaster" if it continues to expel refugees.

Zaire borders nine neighbors and has 1.8 million refugees, more than any other country in the world. The central African nation also holds refugees from conflicts in Angola, Sudan and Uganda.

At Goma, on the northern end of Lake Kivu, about 750,000 Rwandan refugees had been living in sprawling camps before the expulsions.

Almost all the refugees, from both Rwanda and Burundi, are ethnic Hutus. Nearly 2 million Rwandan Hutus fled their homeland when Tutsi-led rebels seized power from the Hutu-dominated government in July, 1994. The rebels took over after an estimated 500,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were killed by Hutu-led militias.

Among the refugees are soldiers, militiamen and officials of the former government who are blamed for planning and carrying out the massacre. Rwanda's government has charged that the Hutu militants were rearming in the refugee camps and preparing to attack Rwanda.

Many of the refugees feared retaliation for the genocide if they returned. The Rwandan government has been screening those who do return, searching for the perpetrators of last year's killings.

Gunfire sounded Tuesday morning at the Goma camps, U.N. refugee agency spokesman Peter Kessler reported. It was not immediately clear who was shooting or if there were any casualties.

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