Heart of Darkness: Kisangani 1997

Biaro refugee camp, near Kisangani

Aid officials in Zaire hope for access to refugees.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, April 27 (Reuter) – Zairean rebel soldiers on Sunday again blocked aid workers and journalists from going to areas where thousands of Rwandan refugees are believed to have fled, aid officials said.

The officials were hoping for talks with rebel leader Laurent Kabila to try to break the deadlock over access.

The rebels barred travelling further than seven km (four miles) south of Kisangani in northeastern Zaire towards makeshift camps hurriedly abandoned by more than 50,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees last week.

The fate of those who fled after attacks by local villagers and rebel soldiers remained uncertain.

“We have very little hard information,” said Paul Stromberg, spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

He said aid officials were hoping for a series of meetings with Kabila, who arrived in Kisangani on Saturday night, to convince him of the need to get help to the refugees quickly.

“Even if we find them, the first question we have for Mr Kabila is what kind of assistance can we give them?” he said.

Planes flying over the dense forests south of Kisangani have failed to find any sign of the refugees, although about 50 were ferried north across the Zaire River by villagers in dugout canoes on Saturday.

Stromberg said about 100 others had been sighted at Ubundu, some 125 km (80 miles) south of Kisangani, but he doubted they would have been part of any group that fled last week’s fighting.

Aldo Ajello

The European Union’s special Great Lakes envoy, Aldo Ajello, arrived in Kisangani on Saturday with a high-level delegation from the EU’s “troika”, the group’s past, current and future presidencies.

The U.N.’s regional coordinator, Pierce Gerety, was also in town hoping to meet Kabila.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has described rebel treatment of the refugees as “slow extermination” and a U.N. food agency spokeswoman, making a comparison with Hitler’s Germany, has said: “The expression ‘Final Solution’ is not exaggerated.”

Some of the refugees played a prominent role in the 1994 slaughter of an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda, and Kabila told Reuters last week that criminals among them had transported their lawlessness to Zaire.

Refugees among those who crossed the river on Saturday could not give a clear picture of what happened to cause their camps to be so swiftly abandoned.

One man, clutching a Bible as he sat in the prow of a canoe, said soldiers had surrounded the camp on Tuesday but local Zaireans armed with machetes and axes had led a series of raids which sparked the exodus.

“There was a lot of shooting, but I didn’t see where from or where at,” he said. “We just ran away as fast as we could.”

The 50,000-plus refugees at Kasese, about 35 km (22 miles) south of Kisangani, were among the last of more than a million Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994 to escape reprisal for the genocide.

Most returned in a huge wave of repatriation sparked by Kabila’s sweeping rebel advance through eastern Zaire. But this group instead headed west and marched nearly 500 kms (300 miles) through dense jungle before being overwhelmed by hunger, exhaustion and illness just south of Kisangani.

It was there that the rebel army overtook them.

An outbreak of cholera was cited by rebels as the reason for delaying the start of a planned U.N. airlift of the refugees.

Rebel authorities have blamed local hostility to the refugees on envy sparked by the sight of tons of food and other aid being given to them by aid organisations.

Local Zaireans have looted U.N. warehouses and a train carrying supplies to the camps, but some of them said they had been urged on by rebel soldiers.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwandan Hutu refugees near Kisangani

Aid workers search for missing refugees in Zaire.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, April 28 (Reuter) – Aid workers searched on Monday for up to 100,000 Rwandan refugees missing in Zaire’s jungle and said it was virtually impossible to meet a rebel demand to repatriate all Rwandan refugees within 60 days.

In another setback, the U.N. Children’s Fund said men in military uniforms had seized 50 ailing Rwandan Hutu refugee children from a hospital in rebel-held east Zaire on Saturday.

“We have sent people south across the Zaire River and we’ve sent a flight to Ubundu to verify whether any more refugees have gone that far south,” said U.N. refugee agency UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg in the northeast Zairean capital of Kisangani.

“Repatriating all the refugees in 60 days would have been difficult enough but now we have to search for them first,” he said. “We will be asking the (rebel) alliance for flexibility.”

Aldo Ajello, the European Union’s special envoy to Central Africa’s “Great Lakes” region, led the team driving south of Kisangani with Filippo Grandi, UNHCR’s regional coordinator.

Stromberg said U.N. agencies would ask for more days if they met hurdles in finding and returning the refugees who fled last week, but said they could use two airports in Kisangani for direct repatriation flights to Rwanda’s capital Kigali.

In addition to the 100,000 missing since last week, 250,000 Rwandan and Burundian refugees are unaccounted for in Zaire since they fled at the start of civil war in October.

Rebel leader Laurent Kabila agreed to give agencies access to search for refugees in talks with aid officials on Sunday but asked for all Rwandan refugees to be sent home within 60 days.

In Geneva, UNICEF said 50 children and several adult Rwandan Hutu refugees at a hospital in Lwiro, 30 km (19 miles) north of the eastern border city of Bukavu, were driven off on trucks on Saturday after men in uniform beat up three medical workers.

“About 20 men in military uniforms drove up in trucks on Saturday morning and fired in the air to warn people not to leave their homes,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Francesca Toso.

“They then stormed into the pediatric hospital, where the children were being treated for serious malnutrition, took them out and put them on trucks, together with some adult refugees, and drove off, warning they might come back,” she added.

Stromberg said U.N. agency officials on Sunday demanded an inquiry into rebel treatment of the refugees because of the “many allegations, many distressing reports”.

Kabila flew to the city of Goma from Kisangani on Monday and said he would meet U.S. envoy Bill Richardson on Wednesday as part of attempts to broker a peaceful end to the civil war.

Kabila said he would meet Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and President Bill Clinton’s envoy, in Lubumbashi after the U.S. diplomat saw President Mobutu Sese Seko in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

He said the rebels were gaining ground at the same time as he cooperated with U.S. and South African diplomatic mediation.

“We are committed to dialogue but that doesn’t stop us from making military gains,” Kabila told Reuters on arrival from Kisangani for talks with commanders of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL).

He said rebels had reached the area around Bondo, a town 300 km (185 miles) east of Gbadolite, where Mobutu has his northern jungle palace, and were consolidating their approach to the town of Kikwit, 390 km (240 miles) east of Zaire’s capital Kinshasa.

He said the final touches were being put to a pact mediated by South Africa and both sides had almost agreed on a venue for face-to-face talks but some details had to be worked out.

The rebel chief says he will meet Mobutu only to discuss how he will stand down as Zaire’s leader after 32 years in power.

Kabila has denied that rebel forces sparked the refugee exodus last week by attacking the camps south of Kisangani and has said he wanted an apology from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has described the fate of the refugees as “slow extermination”.

About 50 refugees who reached Kisangani on Saturday said their camp was surrounded on Tuesday by rebel soldiers and then attacked by Zairean villagers armed with axes and machetes.

The Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in 1994 and are collectively accused by minority Tutsis of genocide in Rwanda the same year.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

Aid workers in Zaire find thousands of refugees.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, April 28 (Reuter) – Aid workers said they found thousands of Rwandan refugees south of the Zairean city of Kisangani on Monday, the largest numbers seen since they fled into the jungle last week.

But aid workers said it was virtually impossible to meet a rebel demand to repatriate all Rwandan refugees within 60 days.

In another setback, the U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF said men in military uniforms had seized 50 ailing Rwandan Hutu refugee children from a hospital in rebel-held east Zaire on Saturday.

The horror, the horror

“The team which went out today radioed back they have found thousands of refugees on the road between km 30 (mile 19) and km 41 (mile 25), heading southwards,” said U.N. World Food Programme spokeswoman Michele Quintaglie in Nairobi.

“It seems we are talking about 6,000 or 7,000 people but more are emerging from the forest. This is very good news. We are planning to send down a train loaded with 115 tonnes of food today,” she said.

Aldo Ajello, the European Union’s special envoy to Central Africa’s “Great Lakes” region, led the team driving south of Kisangani with Filippo Grandi of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

“Repatriating all the refugees in 60 days would have been difficult enough but now we have to search for them first,” said UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg in Kisangani earlier.

“We will be asking the (rebel) alliance for flexibility.”

In addition to the 100,000 missing since last week, 250,000 Rwandan and 50,000 Burundian refugees remain unaccounted for in Zaire since they fled at the start of civil war in October.

Rebel leader Laurent Kabila agreed to give agencies access to search for refugees in talks with aid officials on Sunday but asked for all Rwandan refugees to be sent home within 60 days.

In Geneva, UNICEF said 50 children and several adult Rwandan Hutu refugees at a hospital in Lwiro, 30 km (19 miles) north of the eastern border city of Bukavu, were driven off on trucks on Saturday after men in uniform beat up three medical workers.

“About 20 men in military uniforms drove up in trucks on Saturday morning and fired in the air to warn people not to leave their homes,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Francesca Toso.

“They then stormed into the pediatric hospital, where the children were being treated for serious malnutrition, took them out and put them on trucks, together with some adult refugees, and drove off, warning they might come back,” she added.

Kabila flew to the city of Goma from Kisangani on Monday and said he would meet U.S. envoy Bill Richardson on Wednesday as part of attempts to broker a peaceful end to the civil war.

He planned to see Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and President Bill Clinton’s envoy, in Lubumbashi after the envoy saw President Mobutu Sese Seko in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

“We are committed to dialogue but that doesn’t stop us from making military gains,” Kabila told Reuters on arrival from Kisangani for talks with commanders of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL).

He said rebels had reached the area around Bondo, a town 300 km (185 miles) east of Gbadolite, where Mobutu has his northern jungle palace, and were consolidating their approach to the town of Kikwit, 390 km (240 miles) east of Zaire’s capital Kinshasa.

He said both sides had almost agreed on a venue for face-to-face talks but some details had to be worked out.

The rebel chief says he will meet Mobutu only to discuss how he will stand down as Zaire’s leader after 32 years in power.

Kabila has denied that rebel forces sparked the refugee exodus last week by attacking camps south of Kisangani and has said he wanted an apology from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who called the refugees’ fate “slow extermination”.

The Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in 1994 and are collectively accused by minority Tutsis of genocide in Rwanda the same year.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Dozens dead as refugees begin return to Zaire camp.

By David Fox

BIARO, Zaire, April 28 (Reuter) – Thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees returned to a camp south of the Zairean city Kisangani on Monday, telling of a horrific slaughter that prompted their exodus last week.

Dozens of corpses of those too sick to flee fighting between Hutu refugees, local Zaireans and rebel soldiers lay festering in Biaro camp, 45 km (25 miles) south of Kisangani.

Aid officials and journalists allowed by rebel authorities to visit Biaro camp for the first time in over a week saw the bodies of many refugees who had clearly been hacked to death.

Others among the more than 5,000 refugees who emerged from the forest on Monday spoke of hundreds of dead scattered through the dense undergrowth. Aid officials said dozens more refugees appeared on the verge of death from either illness or injury.

The condition of the refugees clearly shocked aid workers finally allowed access to the area by rebels after Zairean rebel leader Laurent Kabila on Sunday demanded the U.N. repatriate all the remaining Rwandan Hutu refugees in Zaire within 60 days.

But Kabila’s promise to allow aid organisations free access to areas where the refugees are believed to have fled fell flat at the first hurdle as an aid convoy was not allowed past Biaro.

“I am very disappointed we cannot go further,” said Aldo Ajello, the European Union’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region who was on the convoy. “We have been promised full access but it seems not to be the case.”

The refugees said they abandoned Biaro after being attacked by villagers aided by rebel soldiers. They said they repulsed an attack by villagers on April 21 but fled when a huge force returned the following day.

“We just ran, it was terrible,” said one man who emerged trembling from the forest as the aid convoy arrived. “There was shooting and people were being attacked with knives and machetes. It was total panic.”

Rebel authorities have denied any role in the attacks and suggest they were initiated by local Zaireans envious of the free food and medical aid given to the refugees by aid agencies.

But tonnes of food lay scattered around Biaro and nothing appeared to have been looted. Most food seemed to have been destroyed by fires which aid officials said looked as if they had been deliberately set.

Giant rubber bladders used to store drinking water had been slashed open and hoses cut.

Aid workers said it was virtually impossible to meet the rebel demand to repatriate all Rwandan refugees within 60 days.

In addition to up to 100,000 Rwandan refugees missing in the jungle south of Kisangani since last week, 250,000 Rwandan and 50,000 Burundian refugees remain unaccounted for in Zaire since they fled camps at the start of civil war in October.

In Geneva, UNICEF said 50 children and several adult Rwandan Hutu refugees at a hospital in Lwiro, 30 km (19 miles) north of the eastern border city of Bukavu, were driven off on trucks on Saturday after men in uniform beat up three medical workers.

“About 20 men in military uniforms drove up in trucks on Saturday morning and fired in the air to warn people not to leave their homes,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Francesca Toso.

“They then stormed into the pediatric hospital, where the children were being treated for serious malnutrition, took them out and put them on trucks, together with some adult refugees, and drove off, warning they might come back,” she added.

Blankets, pots, clothes and other personal belongings lay scattered throughout Biaro camp on Monday and most refugees trickling back had little else other than what they wore.

One youth wept as he told how he had been separated from his family. He said he had eaten nothing for over a week and gorged himself on biscuits on Monday given him by aid workers.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR regional coordinator, said he despaired at the work needed to be done to nurse the refugees back to health and repatriate them.

“We were all ready to go two weeks ago. Now we have to start from scratch,” he said.

The U.N. had hoped to start airlifting all the refugees from Biaro and Kasese camps this month but the plan was delayed by a cholera outbreak rebels said could spread to local Zaireans.

The Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in 1994 and are collectively accused by minority Tutsis of genocide in Rwanda the same year.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwandan Hutu refugees meet horror in east Zaire.

By David Fox

BIARO CAMP, Zaire, April 29 (Reuter) – The middle-aged Rwandan Hutu refugee was waiting to die in Zaire.

Cared for by his wife and 14-year-old son — the only survivors of his 11-strong immediate family — Mbajo Njirabakaranye sat under a tree in Biaro while scores of flies swarmed on his festering wounds.

His skull had been cracked open by a machete. Maggots could be seen on a bloodied stump that was once his elbow. He rocked back and forth, moaning deliriously to himself.

“Can you help my husband?” his wife asked journalists who were allowed to visit the camp for the first time on Monday since last week when they were barred by Zairean rebels.

“I think he is waiting to die,” she said.

Njirabakaranye was one of some 85,000 Hutu refugees who fled makeshift camps at Biaro and Kasese last Tuesday after they said they were attacked by local villagers backed by Zairean rebels.

His wife said rebels swarmed through their camp in dense forest 41 km (25 miles) south of Kisangani and fired wildly while local Zaireans ran amok with machetes, axes and knives.

Njirabakaranye lost his arm when he vainly attempted to stop a flailing machete, she said. They only noticed his head wound when the refugees had fled from the camp in wild panic.

Her testimony, and that of scores of other refugees who were emerging hesitantly from the forests back to the camps on Monday, undermined rebel assertions they intervened only to save the refugees.

This group was the last big body of refugees known still to be in Zaire after seven months of advances by Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire.

The Hutu refugees, fully aware of the support given the rebels by Rwanda’s government and army, chose to flee farther west to escape returning home to face reprisals for the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates by Hutus.

Many aid workers fear they found a fate worse than a swift death.

After a harrowing 500 km (300 mile) trek from border areas in eastern Zaire, the refugees were overcome by hunger, illness and exhaustion south of Kisangani and overtaken by the rebels.

Resigned to their fate, they appeared to be waiting to take their chances back home in Rwanda courtesy of a United Nations airlift that was supposed to have started over three weeks ago.

The airlift never got off the ground as rebel authorities said a cholera outbreak in Biaro could spread to local people.

The fact that some of the refugees were prepared to return to the camps showed just how dire their problems were.

Biaro and Kasese had been evacuated so swiftly that they had not carried any of their pots, blankets or sheeting with them.

In the camps, dozens of fly-blown corpses lay among the trees behind what had been a hospital for cholera patients.

Medical workers said some of them had probably been overcome by cholera before the camps emptied, but many also bore horrific wounds. Two dead children lay side by side, one with an arm around the other.

Nearby, Njirabakaranye’s wife shyly unravelled a tattered sarong and brought out a red bank savings book. It showed her husband had prudently saved a small amount every month at the bank branch in Buling village from where he came in 1994. His balance, dated January that year, was 1,800 francs.

“Can you help?” she asked. “You can take this.”

($1=3,000 Rwandan francs)

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Plight of Rwandan refugees touches U.S. envoy.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, April 30 (Reuter) – Like the seasoned U.S. troubleshooter he is, U.S. envoy Bill Richardson stormed into a crowd of Rwandan Hutu refugees in Zaire on Wednesday all smiles and handshakes.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations stopped in front of a young Hutu woman and gently stroked the brow of the child she was carrying.

“She’s cold,” Richardson said.

“She’s dead,” the mother said.

“I’m sorry,” Richardson said, “I’m so sorry,” and his mood appeared to sink as he continued with a flying visit to this sweltering city, Zaire’s third-largest carved out of dense jungle on a bend in the Zaire River.

Bill Richardson

“This is a dire situation…it’s a tragedy,” Richardson told reporters. “We have to do something about it. We have to be able to do something about it.”

Richardson had hoped to visit Biaro refugee camp, 41 km (25 miles) south of Kisangani, but the unexpected delivery of 450 refugees by Zairean rebel authorities tied up the only ferry that can take vehicles across the river.

Instead he mingled with those being taken to a transit camp to await a U.N. airlift that would carry them home to Rwanda after a three-year exile at the end of a seven-month nightmare.

Most of the refugees Richardson saw appeared in good health, but he said he had heard reports of dreadful conditions at Biaro and Kasese camps.

Over 100,000 refugees sheltered at those two camps fled into the forest in wild panic last week after being attacked by local villagers and Tutsi-dominated rebels.

Aid officials believe possibly hundreds of refugees died in the attacks or from illness and hunger as they hid in forest.

On Tuesday, dozens of rotting corpses littered the camps and refugees said hundreds more were scattered in the forest.

Thousands began returning to the camps on Monday, their fears overwhelmed by desperation. They were still trickling back on Wednesday, but aid workers were despairing at a lack of access to the area.

On Tuesday the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR tried to send 11 trucks loaded with supplies to the camps, but rebels — despite a promise by their leader Laurent Kabila on Sunday of “total access” for aid workers — allowed only three to travel.

On Wednesday, a second convoy was cancelled following the unexpected arrival of the refugee train in Kisangani.

In a meeting with Kisangani’s governor, Richardson told him the international community expected the rebel Alliance to loosen its grip on the areas to where refugees have fled.

“I ask you to allow access to all aid workers,” he said. “It is important, vitally important that they are allowed to go about their business in the best possible way.”

The mother Richardson spoke to at the ferry dock later climbed aboard a UNHCR truck clutching the lifeless body of her daughter.

She was to spend Wednesday night in a transit camp near Kisangani’s international airport before being carried home on an Ilyushin aircraft on Thursday, the second day of a U.N. airlift.

Rebel leader Laurent Kabila has given aid agencies 60 days from Thursday to repatriate all Rwandan refugees in Zaire.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Survival of the fittest among Rwandan refugees.

By David Fox

BIARO, Zaire, May 2 (Reuter) – Gaston stands out among his fellow Rwandan Hutu refugees. He is clearly better fed and in better health than most of his compatriots.

He makes no apology for this as he stands watch over a tent sheltering his sister and dozens of other emaciated children to whom aid workers are giving rehydration fluid at this makeshift refugee camp 40 km (25 miles) south of Kisangani.

Despite more than two years in a refugee camp at Goma in eastern Zaire and then a 500 km (300 mile) trek westwards, Gaston seems to be doing very well.

“It is because I am nearly a doctor,” he says. “I was studying medicine when the war came and since then I have been helping in the camps. For this you get better treatment.”

“Better treatment” is a refugee euphemism for privileges granted by the thuggish Interahamwe militiamen and former Rwandan army soldiers who have controlled the fate of over a million Hutu refugees since 1994.

The refugees fled their homeland to escape reprisal for the genocide of over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

Survival of the fittest

Most went home last November when Zairean rebels, drawing initially on ethnic Tutsis and with the support of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government and army, began an offensive that has brought them close to the Zairean capital Kinshasa.

The first target of the rebels last year was to break up the dozens of sprawling refugee camps in eastern Zaire, from which Hutu extremists were launching raids back into Rwanda.

The Interahamwe had a stanglehold on the camps in subtle and not so subtle ways, Gaston said, and quickly pressed into service anyone with useful skills, such as a trainee doctor.

“There was no choice…Either I worked for them and they looked after me or I didn’t work for them and they killed me and my family,” said Gaston.

How he came to be in the camps in the first place was a mixture of bad luck and worse judgment, he said.

Recuperating from malaria at home near Gitarama when the Rwanda Patriotic Front launched the offensive that ended the genocide, Gaston was determined to stay when thousands of his fellow Hutus began fleeing their homes.

“When I realised I was the only Hutu left, I decided to go as well. At university I had some Tutsi friends, at home I had some Tutsi friends, but I knew I would be blamed if I stayed.”

When rebels raided the camps and over a million Rwandans went home, Gaston says the Interahamwe forced him to flee west.

His usefulness paid off on the trek that ended south of Kisangani, when thousands died of hunger or illness. “When food was low, they (the Interahamwe) would steal from local people or take from refugees who were not so useful,” he says. “I would take what they gave me and try to share it with my family.”

The Zairean rebels overtook the column in mid-March and it was at this point, Gaston said, that even the refugee leaders decided to go no further. They quickly established makeshift camps and the U.N. aid agencies swiftly moved into gear with food, water and plans for a massive airlift back to Rwanda.

On April 21 and 22, however, the Biaro and Kasese camps were attacked by Zairean locals and rebel soldiers — apparently to retaliate for the murder of six villagers by refugees — and the camps emptied into the surrounding jungle.

“I myself saw only six soldiers where we were, but they were definitely Rwandan, definitely Tutsis,” he said. “I heard them speaking, shouting. When we tried to fight back against the Zaireans they started shooting everywhere.”

“In the camps we hear lots of rumours but we never heard about the killing of the six. We think this is a complete lie.”

In those two days of fighting and the following week in the forest, Gaston said he saw things he will never forget.

“My father died in Goma, my two brothers died coming here. I don’t know where my other brother is. My mother is over there with my other brother and sister and this is my other sister,” he said, pointing to a naked skeletal figure on a tarpaulin.

Around him are people with dreadful wounds. One woman has been shot through the chest. When medical workers unwrap her home-made bandage, maggots tumble from the wound.

As Gaston talks, another fitter-looking refugee is tying a scrawled sign to a tree with an arrow indicating where people from Gisenye should gather. The organisers are back at work.

He shouts something at Gaston who apologises and says he has to go. “They need me do work,” he says.

A doctor from the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF told Reuters that Gaston’s sister would probably be dead by Friday afternoon.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Over 100 Rwandans suffocate in Zaire refugee train.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 4 (Reuter) – More than 100 Hutu refugees from Rwanda suffocated or were crushed to death on Sunday in a train carrying them from a refugee camp in Zaire to be airlifted back to their country, U.N. officials said.

“I think this is one of the most horrifying events I have ever seen in all my years as an aid worker,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, head of the Kisangani office of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Aid workers and journalists saw dozens of bodies tumbling from six open wagons as the train pulled into Kisangani station in northeastern Zaire.

Those packed inside the wagons and still living leapt over the sides as the train came to a stop after a two-hour journey from Biaro camp 41 km (25 miles) away.

Hundreds were reported injured, more than 50 of them in serious condition.

Kleinschmidt called on the Zairean rebel authorities who control the area and run the railways to hand over full control of the process of repatriating Rwandan refugees.

“There has been too much death already,” he said. “Whoever is responsible for this has to let us do our job… Whoever is involved in this has to improve.”

The rebel authorities had told UNHCR officials to expect around 2,800 refugees. But it was clear that the six open-topped carriages carried hundreds more.

Survivors said thousands of refugees had swarmed onto the train as it pulled out of a station near Biaro. In the crush that followed, the weak, children and dozens of desperately ill adults were forced to the bottom of the carriages.

Those watching the arrival were unaware that under thousands of upright refugees lay the bodies of dozens who died during the journey.

Three photographers who travelled in the engine compartment had no idea the tragedy had taken place.

“Only when he got off could we see what happened,” said Stephen Ferry, an American photograher aboard the train. “At the beginning of the journey we could see some people shouting for us to stop. We told the driver but he said no problem.”

“After that the journey seemed fine… Actually we and they seemed glad to be leaving the camp.”

“Throughout the journey I could have been taking pictures of dead people … they just hadn’t fallen down,” said Kadir van Lohuizen, a Dutch photographer.

At Kisangani station, aid workers tried to help pull those still alive from the jumble of limbs and bodies at the bottom of the wagons.

One man moaned:” My wife died two months ago and now my only son has died.” Next to him was a man constantly crossing himself mumbling “My God, my God” in Swahili as he sat in the middle of a pile of dead bodies from the second wagon.

UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg also called on the rebel authorities to immediately allow more cooperation between aid organisations and the local administration.

“We need to have control of the trains if we are to be responsible for them,” he said.

Aid officials have complained that they have not had control over the evacuation of the refugees from the camp despite promises of cooperation from rebel leader Laurent Kabila.

Rebel officials, stung by criticism of their part in an attack on refugees at Biaro camp nearly two weeks ago, have since been loading thousands of refugees onto an old narrow-gauge railway train and dumping them at Kisangani station. The numbers arriving have overwhelmed the UNHR.

The refugees, remnants of over one million Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994 to escape reprisal for the genocide of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, fled west deeper into Zaire when the rebels began their offensive last year.

Bairo and nearby Kasese camp have had up to 80,000 Rwandan refugees but some are still in the forests where they fled after the attack on the camp. Thousands are now drifting back.

Over 60 refugees died overnight at Biaro, officials said, and hundreds more will die in the next few days unless medical facilities are swiftly imporved.

A further 1,132 refugees earlier flew to Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Sunday, bringing the total since the airlift began on Tuesday to 5,035.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwandan Hutus killed on refugee train.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 5 (Reuter) – Photographers thought the Rwandan Hutus were waving and cheering as they left by train from their stinking, disease-ridden refugee camp in eastern Zaire.

Only later did they discover that the people they photographed could literally have been shouting for their lives.

The train which left Biaro station on Sunday promised the end of a pitiful three-year odyssey for the thousands of Rwandans who clambered aboard the rickety open carriages on the way to a United Nations airlift back home.

Just over two hours later, as it pulled into Lubunga Station in Kisangani, it emerged that they had undergone a horrific ordeal in which more than 100 of them were killed — suffocated or crushed to death.

“I think this is one of the most horryfing events I have ever seen in all my years as an aid worker,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, head of the Kisangani operation of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, who was at the station.

Dozens of bodies tumbled from the carriages as their sides were let down to allow the refugees to get off and make their way to a ferry across the river.

“At the begining of the journey we could see some people shouting for us to stop. We told the driver, but he said no problem,” said Stephen Ferry, a U.S. photograher who was in the train’s engine compartment.

“After that the journey seemed fine…Actually we and they seemed glad to be leaving the camp.”

UNHCR officals told Reuters earlier that they had no control over who travelled on the rebel-operated railway that had been carrying refugees into Kisangani for the past five days.

Paul Stromberg, a UNHCR spokesman, said U.N. trucks were carrying desperate cases out of the camps by truck. The fittest were making their own way to the railway station.

U.N. officials had complained for days that rebel authorities, stung by allegations that they had attacked the camps two weeks ago and forced refugees to flee, were dumping refugees in Kisangani by the unannounced trainload.

Thousands of refugees were still drifting back to Biaro and the nearby Kasese camp on Sunday although dozens of people were dying there every day from illness, hunger or wounds.

The refugees, remnants of over one million Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994 to escape reprisal for the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, fled west deeper into Zaire when rebels launched an offensive last year.

One group of 80,000 trekked more than 500 km (300 miles) through dense forest to the region near Kisangani, Zaire’s third city, where they were overwhelmed by illness, hunger and exhaustion.

They finally seemed resigned to returning to Rwanda, but rebel authorities delayed a U.N.-planned repatriation on the grounds that a cholera outbreak could spread to local villagers.

The rebels also a lock-out on the camps but aid officials said all the refugees had fled into the jungle after two days of attacks by local Zaireans and rebel soldiers.

Aid officials say they cannot estimate how many people died in the fighting and the week following spent hiding in the forest. Refugees returning to the camps said hundreds of bodies littered the forest.

UNHCR officials said they were given three hours notice on Sunday that a train carrying 2,800 refugees would be arriving at the station. When it finally pulled in, it was clear it had been packed with hundreds more.

As survivors climbed down from the train, bodies of people who had been crushed to death fell down, piling on top of those which had already been squeezed down.

“Throughout the journey I could have been taking pictures of dead people…They just hadn’t fallen down,” said Kadir van Lohuizen, a Dutch photographer.

Aid officials who had returned by road from Biaro camp and were waiting for a river ferry helped to pull those still alive from the jumble of bodies.

One man shouted “Francine,Francine” as he scrambled through corpses looking for his wife. He found her dead beneath the crush.

Nearby a man constantly crossing himself mumbled “My God, my God” in Swahili as he sat in the middle of a pile of bodies from the second wagon.

Survivors said thousands of people had swarmed onto the train as it left a station near Biaro. The weak, children and dozens of desperately ill adults aboard were forced to the bottom of the carriage in the crush that followed.

Stromberg called on rebel authorities to allow more cooperation between aid organisations and officials. “We need to have control of the trains if we are to be responsible for them,” he said.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Zairean rebels dump Rwanda refugees by truck.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 5 (Reuter) – The United Nations averted an attempt to move more Rwandan refugees by train on Monday but Zairean rebels brought hundreds by truck and dumped them by the bodies of those killed in a stampede on the railway.

The refugees are from camps in the forests south of the Zairean city of Kisangani and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR is keen to repatriate them by air to Rwanda.

Ninety-one of them were suffocated or crushed to death in packed railway wagons on Sunday during a two-hour journey to Kisangani from Biaro camp.

U.N. officials said on Monday they had to plead with the Zairean rebel authorities not to attempt immediately another evacuation of the Hutu refugees by rail.

“We were told this afternoon that the train was going to return and collect more refugees,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, head of the UNHCR office in Kisangani.

“We didn’t have to lie down on the tracks but we really had to persuade them not to go at the moment,” he added.

The rebel authorities did, however, dump six trucks containing over 500 refugees at Kisangani after bringing them from Biaro, 41 kms (25 miles) south of the city.

They were dropped at the ferry jetty on the Zaire river just metres away from dozens of corpses left from Sunday.

Kleinschmidt said he had told rebel officials that it was essential for aid agencies to get more cooperation from authorities if the repatriation of tens of thousands of refugees still in Zaire was to continue without another disaster.

“We need the cooperation of the military…They are good for crowd control. But we also have to be directly involved in deciding how many people can safely be carried,” he said.

A further 2,606 refugees flew back to Rwanda on 10 flights on Monday, bringing the total since the airlift began to 7,641.

Aid officials were clearly furious that Monday’s truck convoy contained too many people crammed into too few vehicles.

The UNHCR calculates a big truck can safely carry up to 60 people but the first three trucks on Monday unloaded over 300.

Officals of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) were hard to find in Kisangani on Monday. One official, who identified himself as Betrand Busimo, a press officer, told Reuters that no one was available or authorised to speak to reporters.

UNHCR officials were reluctant on Monday to blame the AFDL in public for Sunday’s tragedy. Other U.N. officials, who declined to be identified, said UNHCR should share some blame, saying both were in too much of a rush to move out refugees.

“Safeguards have to be implemented now to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again,” said a U.N. official.

UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg told Reuters that the agency did not have anyone at Biaro station when the train was loaded.

“We have been unable to establish a permanent presence at the camp and this obviously doesn’t help,” he said.

The Rwandan Hutu refugees delivered on Monday looked shocked on seeing a pile of corpses near where they were dropped off.

Local Zaireans taunted them with bananas and young Zairean children ostentatiously gorged on fruit before the cowed group.

One Zairean woman, however, screamed at her compatriots to leave them and bought bananas and gave them to refugee children.

As she left, one Rwandan refugee woman called her an angel.

The refugees, remnants of more than a million Hutus who fled to Zaire in 1994 to escape reprisal for the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, fled deeper into the country when Zaire’s Tutsi-dominated rebels launched an offensive last October.

One group of 80,000 trekked more than 500 km (300 miles) through dense forest to near Kisangani, Zaire’s third city, where they were overwhelmed by illness, hunger and exhaustion.

They finally seemed resigned to returning to Rwanda, but rebel authorities delayed a U.N.-planned repatriation on the grounds a cholera outbreak could spread to local villagers.

All the refugees then fled into the jungle after two days of attacks by what they said were local Zaireans and rebels.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwandan refugee mother abandons daughter in camp.

By David Fox

BIARO CAMP, Zaire, May 10 (Reuter) – Rwandan refugee Thesela has a bright-eyed six-year-old son who wears an old-fashioned nightdress and holds your hand while you talk to his mother.

She also had a four-year-old daughter, a shivering fever-racked skeleton wrapped in rags and strapped to her back until she abandoned her on Friday at a muddy roadside in Biaro camp.

Thesela says that she has not seen her husband since the whole family fled Biaro camp in northeastern Zaire on April 21 to escape attacks by local villagers and Zairean rebels.

She cannot find anyone she knows among the 30,000 refugees who have drifted back to Biaro since the camp attacks. The community system which helped her family through three years of exile from Rwanda is shattered, and Thesela has just given up.

Thesela dumped her daughter on the roadside a few paces away from a train she said she hoped would take her small family to Kisangani and then on a United Nations airlift back to Rwanda.

She had been refused permission by Zairean Red Cross workers to board the train because she arrived at the station too late.

She was late, she said, because she had no one to help her queue for food and water for her children, keep an eye on their meagre belongings, fend off raids by other desperate refugees and reach the station.

“My daughter is going to die,” she told Reuters after dropping her child by the roadside and walking back to the camp.

“I hope that you can help her, but there is nothing I can do anymore,” she added. “It is just me and my son now.”

While aid agencies are used to dealing with what are officially called “unaccompanied minors” in refugee camps, they have been overwhelmed in recent days by the numbers at Biaro.

“These are not unaccompanied children,” said an official of the Irish aid organisation Concern. “These children have been deliberately abandoned by their parents — some to give them a better chance, but most because they can’t cope.”

More than two million Rwandan Hutus fled their homeland in 1994 to escape reprisals for the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Some had blood on their hands and some were innocent.

They settled in camps in Tanzania and eastern Zaire and established a community routine mirroring their life in Rwanda.

Camps were laid out like miniature maps of Rwanda, with extended families grouped in communes and prefectures named after at home. A tightly-knit co-existence swiftly emerged.

From a young age, children were drilled into learning by rote the necessities of refugee life. Often the first words they could speak were the name of their family, village or commune.

Those always fragile family links are in ruins in Biaro.

“Most of the children in this tent have no idea who they are, let alone where they come from,” said Annick Jeantet of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “I think they will have very little chance of finding their parents again.”

Family structures broke down as refugees fled west deeper into Zaire last year instead of returning to Rwanda with 685,000 others at the start of a revolt by Tutsi-dominated rebels.

Aid organisations take photographs of all unaccompanied children they find. These are displayed in communes in Rwanda where parents scrutinise them to see if they recognise anyone.

The chances of finding a lost child are made more difficult by the fact that parents often cannot relate a photograph of a gaunt, hollow-eyed child to their memory of their healthy child.

Thelesa’s daughter was taken by aid workers to a UNICEF tent to join hundreds of other children who were lost or abandoned.

As a drip was inserted into her arm, a photographer questioned her and took three grainy pictures. On the back of each he wrote: “Name – unknown, family – unknown, district -unknown”.

A small plastic bracelet attached to her wrist said the same thing.

“The chances of this girl surviving are slim,” said an aid worker. “The chances of her being reunited with her family are probably non-existent.”

On Saturday the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR planned to airlift nearly 300 unaccompanied children to Rwanda. It has so far sent more than 1,500 children from Biaro since April 27 home alone.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

Document lba0000020011002dt5a05wd2

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Run-down zoo mirrors life in general in Kisangani.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 11 (Reuter) – The last animal at Kisangani zoo was given what its keepers regard as the ultimate tribute when it died last month. They refused to eat it.

The animal, a crocodile which zookeepers said had spent at least 20 years in captivity at the Kisangani Biological Gardens, was instead dumped below the picturesque Tsope falls, where it drifted into the Zaire river from where it originally came.

“It hadn’t eaten for a long time and was sick,” said Moses Imwenza, now the only remaining keeper at the zoo. “You can’t eat a sick crocodile, so when it died we pushed it back.”

Kisangani’s zoo, set in lush, overgrown gardens on the banks of the Tsope river, is a metaphor for the faded glory this central African city once enjoyed.

Made famous in the west by Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” and more recently by V.S. Naipaul’s “A bend in the River”, Kisangani is a dusty, sweltering city on the frontier of the jungle. Its sole industry seems to be petty swindling.

Imwenza told Reuters at its peak in the 1960s the zoo had dozens of animals, including lions, leopards and gorillas, and hundreds of people would visit at weekends to picnic in the gardens.

Today, the jungle is taking over the cages and enclosures and the only animals to be seen are birds flitting through trees and lizards warming themselves in dappled patches of sunlight.

Kisangani city itself seems to be in the process of being slowly swallowed up by the jungle of northeastern Zaire.

Once-elegant Belgian colonial houses lie in ruins on either side of the river that splits the city, Zaire’s third largest.

Roads have not been repaired for years and streetlights were long ago vandalised and looted for any wire they might contain.

Residents blame three decades of neglect, corruption and misrule under Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko for Kisangani’s decline, but others say the problems are more deep-rooted here.

“It is very hard to warm to Kisangani or the people,” said a missionary who has spent decades in the region. “Sometimes I wonder what purpose Kisangani has.”

In its heyday, Kisangani was the last navigable port before the Stanley Falls on the Zaire river. Its population was swelled by the arrival of white traders and Indian merchants keen to try to make a profit from the diamonds, ivory and gold in the area.

But it also developed a reputation for ruthlessness, a place where you could have your throat cut for looking at someone in the wrong way or where a whole village would be wiped out because of a rumour that its residents had found a valuable gem.

Today every other shop is still a diamond dealer, but few are open. Gaudy signs boasting “Rambo diamonds” or “Star of the east” entice small diggers, but most prefer to deal directly with Indian buyers who trade furtively from their hotel rooms.

“If you know what you are doing you can buy diamonds here for up to 40 percent less than anywhere else in the world,” one buyer said. “The problem is you have to pay so many people just to get established.”

The Indian dealers are buying up to $250,000 worth of gems per trip, taking them back to India for cutting, polishing and resale and then using the profits to air freight basic goods to Kisangani.

These are then sold at enormously inflated prices in the city’s markets to finance another spree of gem-buying. “This is Kisangani’s economy,” said another diamond dealer.

Residents welcomed Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire when they took the city on March 15 on their offensive that has taken them to near the capital Kinshasa.

But few Kisangani residents have felt any difference in their lives since then. The only industries still running are the power station above the Tsope falls and the nearby brewery.

Water costs $10 a bottle, tinned food is well past its sell-by date and aid workers and the few remaining journalists in the city are weary of a diet of stringy chicken and banana chips.

Even rabble-rousing reports on rebel radio describing either Kinshasa’s fall or imminent fall fail to motivate. “So what,” said one man listening. “Nothing will change. Kisangani will be the same.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Cynical numbers game continues over Zaire refugees.

By David Fox

KISANGANI, Zaire, May 13 (Reuter) – A new round of a cynical numbers game is under way between Rwanda and U.N. aid agencies over how many Rwandan Hutu refugees remain in Zaire.

More than 20,000 have been repatriated since April 27 in a U.N. airlift from the northeastern city of Kisangani. But questions remain over how many are left behind.

An aid mission was sent at the weekend to an area south of Kisangani which had not been visited by U.N. officials for weeks. It discovered thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees, many on the verge of death.

Thousands more refugees are arriving in Congo after walking across the breadth of Zaire, a country the size of western Europe. Some 17,000 have reached the border with Angola.

Nevertheless, the head of the Rwandan government’s refugee repatriation programme says there are only 30,000 refugees left in Zaire, in addition to some 20,000 found south of Kisangani.

This is vastly different from U.N. and other aid agency estimates of between 200,000 and 300,000 Rwandan refugees left in Zaire, most of them unaccounted for since they fled a rebellion by Tutsi-dominated rebels in the east last year.

Rwanda’s government says it wants all Hutu refugees to return and rebuild the country. So why would it say so few are left?

U.N. agencies say they want all the refugees to go back. So why would it inflate the numbers — as Rwanda alleges?

“Because one of us is lying,” a senior aid official told Reuters. “And it isn’t us.” Rwandan officials, in turn, say it is the U.N. refugee agency that is lying.

The Rwandan refugees are the rump of more than two million who fled to Zaire and Tanzania in 1994 in fear of reprisals for the genocide of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates

They included tens of thousands of former Rwandan troops and Interahamwe militiamen who led the three-month mass slaughter. In addition, there were greater numbers of their dependants.

The Rwandan government, while urging all refugees to return, says those who took part in the genocide must be punished and is pleased that the rebels, by uprooting the refugees from their camps, destroyed the bases of Hutu extremists raiding Rwanda.

Removing the threat of cross-border incursions by Hutus based in the refugee camps is one of the reasons why Rwanda says it supports the rebellion of Laurent Kabila. But it denies sending its own troops to fight alongside the Zairean rebels.

Some 685,000 Hutu refugees returned home from Zaire last year but the hard core trekked westwards deeper into Zaire.

At the time of that exodus, the Rwandan government, backed by U.S. aerial reconnaissance of the thick jungle, said most had gone home and accused UNHCR of inflating the original numbers.

In March up to 100,000 Rwandan refugees stopped south of Kisangani, overwhelmed by hunger, sickness and exhaustion. They were overtaken by the advancing rebels.

Aid workers say the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) cannot have a tight grip on much of the territory they have seized, which amounts to three quarters of Africa’s third largest country.

They say they believe behind rebel lines are large numbers of Rwandan Hutu extremists hiding in the jungle and forests. They fear rebels are hunting them down and killing them to spare the risk, expense and trouble of repatriating them to Rwanda.

Some aid workers quote rebel commanders as saying that this is what they are doing and that they have to consider all Hutus hiding in the jungle as extremists, even women and children.

In April the rebels sealed off the area south of Kisangani, where aid agencies had located nearly 100,000 refugees.

For two weeks aid workers had no access to refugees at two main camps and the thousands more scattered in the forests.

When aid workers were finally allowed back they discovered a massacre, or series of massacres, had taken place.

Of more than 5,000 refugees treated by aid agency medical staff when they regained access to Biaro camp on July 27, nearly 30 percent had machete wounds.

Hundreds had been shot. Survivors said Zairean villagers and rebels attacked them. The rebels denied any role and said villagers attacked in revenge for the killing of six Zaireans.

Despite promises by Kabila of free access, aid workers have still been denied access to vast parts of eastern Zaire where refugees have either fled or are feared to be dead.

Officials on a train south of Kisangani at the weekend reported a smell of rotting corpses at the 52 km mark.

Rebels last week refused to give security and cooperation guarantees to allow access to eastern Zaire for a U.N. team sent to investigate allegations of massacres by rebel forces.

“We may never know how many refugees have been killed, have died or are still out there,” said a U.N. official. “At the moment all we can do is try and evacuate those we can get our hands on.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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Rwanda refugee three-year odyssey ends in two days.

By David Fox

KIGALI, Rwanda, May 16 (Reuter) – There was no movie, duty-free trolley, or in-flight service of any kind on the Latvian-crewed Ilyushin plane from Kisangani, the jungle capital of northeast Zaire, to Rwanda.

But for the 265 Rwandan Hutu refugees aboard the flight, the first for most, ended three years in exile, a six-month trek to escape rebels and weeks of suffering south of Kisangani city.

Aboard the Ilysuhin, there were no seatbelts, seats or safety demonstration. Refugees merely shuffled on and squatted, facing backwards, as the aircraft’s giant engines screamed for takeoff.

The refugees on the U.N. airlift home smiled nervously as they felt the plane leave the ground. Minutes later they seemed as relaxed as a frequent-flyer chalking up air miles in business class.

“I have never been on a plane before,” said beaming Gabriel Nsamanje with seven family members gathered around him.

The plane carrying Nsamanje and his family Thursday pushed the number of refugees flown back to Rwanda since the U.N. airlift began in earnest from Kisangani April 27 to more than 25,000.

After two years in a refugee camp and a grueling six-month walk through some of the densest forests in the world, the Nsamanje family was whisked back home by train, ferry, truck and plane.

They left Biaro refugee camp, 25 miles south of Kisangani, Wednesday on a narrow-gauge train that trundled through bamboo groves before they were dumped just south of the Zaire River.

They then took a listing vehicle ferry across the river before they were loaded on to trucks which took them to a transit camp near Kisangani’s international airport and a meager supper of beans and cornmeal. They flew home the next day.

Nsamanje and family were among hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled deeper into Zaire last October to escape the Zairian rebel offensive that has now almost reached Kinshasa.

From their camp near Bukavu on the Rwanda-Zaire border, the family first walked to Walikale and then on to Tingi Tingi.

They were almost overtaken by rebels before the toughest part of their odyssey, the walk to Kisangani. Then, overcome by hunger, exhaustion and illness, nearly 100,000 Hutu refugees collapsed into makeshift camps at Biaro and nearby Kasese.

Tens of thousands more remain scattered through the forests of Zaire. Some have even made their way across the entire country, a land the size of western Europe, to reach Congo.

“I can’t say why we kept going,” Nsamanje told Reuters. “We kept looking for a way around the rebels because we had heard they would kill refugees, but we couldn’t find it.”

Asked if he was glad to be returning, Nsamanje gives what is the standard reply for a refugee on the airlift, “Very happy.”

The response is surprising, given that more than 100,000 Rwandan Hutus are held in Rwanda’s jails and lockups suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide of an estimated 800,000 Hutus and Tutsi moderates.

As the plane gained height, a journalist explained to the refugees they should swallow to equalize the pressure change in the cabin. Laughter erupted as word was passed round and their ears “popped.”

Refugee mothers suckled their infants and wizened old men rolled banana leaves into make-do cigarettes. The crew vanished on to the flight deck and the refugees gaped at the entrails of the plane, a former passenger aircraft gutted to carry cargo.

At touchdown, refugees burst into applause and peered into the dusk as the tailgate was lowered. They saw more trucks waiting to take them to what would be their last night as refugees.

Nsamanje registered Friday with Rwandan and U.N. officials before leaving on a truck for his home town, Gisenji.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997

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About FoxFromZim

I am a journalist from Zimbabwe, currently based in Singapore. I report chiefly on international affairs, specialising in politics, war and natural disasters when not playing golf badly.
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