Life and death in Rwanda, Zaire and Tanzania (1996)

Rwanda still burying its dead as Hutus return.

By David Fox

NYAMATA, Rwanda, Nov 22 (Reuter) – As hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees make their way home from a two-year exile in Zaire, Rwanda is still burying victims of the genocide that sparked the guilt-ridden exodus.

In the middle of a wrecked church in this rural hamlet, about 50 km (28 miles) south of Kigali, Tutsi workers were digging a mass grave to bury the bodies of around 2,000 people — many of them members of their own families.

The bodies were packed into black bags, bones and skulls bursting through what has been their fragile coffins. Cobwebs had replaced flesh and dust covered the grim scene like a shroud.

Just down the road at Dihiro transit camp, nearly 2,000 refugees who had fled Nyamata in the wake of the 1994 genocide were unpacking their meagre possessions. It was to be their last night as refugees. The next day they would return home.

The problems Rwanda faces in reconciling its population are starkly illustrated by Nyamata, scene of some of the worst atrocities of 1994 when Hutu Interahamwe militia supported by the former Rwandan army massacred up to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in an orgy of bloodshed.

The violence was sparked by the April 6 shooting down of a plane carrying Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana back from peace talks with the then rebel Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in Tanzania and ended only when the RPF overthrew the government later that year.

Thousands of ordinary Hutus are accused of participating in the slaughter — either by merely pointing out the homes of Tutsis or by actively helping hunt down and kill them.

Marc Nsabimana, one of those digging the grave at Nyamata church, told Reuters that 16 members of his family died in the slaughter. Their bodies had remained unburied as local authorities debated whether to turn the church into a shrine.

Nyamata church ... thousands massacred

“They are here, in these bags,” he said. “They died here and so it is good they should be buried here.”

Nsabimana said over 1,500 people had crammed into the church on April 11 after five days of increasing attacks on Tutsis.

That night the Interahamwe, watched by army troops, climbed onto the roof and sprayed bullets on those within. Any who tried to flee were scythed down with machetes or clubbed to death.

Today, sunlight streams through the bullet holes in the roof lighting up the grim interior to reveal walls marked with blood like a macabre stained glass window.

Nsabimana said he recognised some of his former neighbours as they were trucked towards the transit camp earlier that day.

He bears them no ill-will, he said. “If they are guilty then the authorities will deal with them.”

Some, it seems, are already being dealt with.

At Runda transit camp closer to Kigali, a group of around 40 men were separated from their fellow refugees for a different kind of registration.

These men, soldiers at the camp said, were members of the former Rwandan army who some say drove their fellow Hutu like cattle across the border to Zaire hoping to hide in their midst as they were routed by the RPF.

They and the Interahamwe lost their grip on vast refugee camps that resulted when mainly Tutsi rebels in eastern Zaire laid seige to them during a rout of Zairean governement troops.

The former Rwandan soldiers at Runda looked cowed but fitter and healthier than their fellow refugees. Heads bowed, they deferentially listened as a government minister told them they would all, in time, be questioned on their role in the genocide.

Those suspected of involvement would face military tribunals, he said. Civilians would be tried in civil courts.

With over 80,000 people already crammed into Rwanda’s jails on charges of genocide, it is clear that at this time the government has no choice but to send them home.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Zaire brewery’s decline metaphor for a faded town.

By David Fox

BUKAVU, Zaire, Nov 29 (Reuter) – Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach but for fighters in Africa’s latest conflict it is beer that fuels their victories — and their defeats.

It is understandable, therefore, that officials at the largest brewery in Kivu province are somewhat reluctant to talk about what their factory has undergone in the past month. Who knows which force will arrive to demand “wages” next?

“Times are very hard at the moment,” said one official of Bukavu Brewery, the dominating — in fact only currently operating — industry of this sleepy lakeside town. “We will run out of supplies soon. December 15 will be the last day of beer.”

It is surprising that any business at all is being done.

Twice looted — once by Zairean government troops and former Rwandan army soldiers and then by the conquering Zairean Banyamulenge rebels — the brewery is nevertheless a hive of activity.

The brewery, officials said, is one of four in Zaire owned by Heineken, the Dutch brewing giant. At capacity it employed over 400 people and produced some 30,000 hectolitres of Primus brand beer a month.

Today there are just 100 staff left, mainly involved in bottling the beer remaining in the vast vats. With no hops, malt or yeast, officials say they cannot produce any more.

“This was a profitable factory that was well run,” said one official. “It is a pity to see it going down.” He said money made from sales of remaining beer was going towards paying wages and bills.

The problems faced by Bukavu brewery are shared by other traders and businessmen in eastern Zaire. The area used to rely on Kinshasha for supplies, but now that rebels control a vast sweep of the province lines have been cut.

Small traders rely on frequent visits to Rwanda for supplies, but for a big company like the brewery — with interests in government controlled-Zaire — such a step would be political suicide.

Elsewhere in Bukavu, there are signs that life is returning to normal. The town, taken by the rebels on October 29, escaped much of the street-to-street fighting witnessed in Goma.

Aid organisations estimate three-quarters of the population fled — looting every shop as they went — but in the past two days they have been pouring back to town.

The streets are in appalling condition — a four-wheel drive vehicle is more necessary in town than the countryside — and puncture repair shops have sprung up on every corner.

Roadside beauty salons have reopened, vendors sell petrol from tin drums brought from Rwanda and curio sellers scramble for the attention of any vehicle carrying a foreigner.

There is no shortage or food. The countryside is lush and the outskirts of town are packed with vendors selling pineapples, avocadoes and bananas. Pigs wallow in the mud outside small butcheries and chickens peck hopefully at the dusty pavements.

But only two small general stores are open — selling toothpaste, soap and powdered milk from Rwanda — and there seem to be no customers.

At night the town is deserted. Locals say there is an unofficial curfew but this is ignored by off-duty rebel officials who drink in the bar of the splendid but faded Residence Hotel.

A few local good-time girls vie for the attention of the handful of journalists still in town. They sip their Primus and plan their departures — preferably before the beer runs out.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Ordeal of Marie shows futility of Zaire airdrops.

By David Fox

CHIMANGA, Zaire, Dec 1 (Reuter) – Marie Nyiratezimana, a Rwandan Hutu refugee, lay hidden for 13 days in a maize field near the sprawling hillside camp that has been her home for the past two-and-a-half years.

Her left leg was sliced almost through at the knee. Her left arm was a festering mass of sores caused by the bullets that tore into her as she fled a massacre of hundreds of her compatriots nearly two weeks ago.

Since then she has lived on a handful of unripe bananas and a bucket of water provided by local villagers. Through scorching sun and torrential rain she stoically swatted the scores of flies that settled on the filthy blood-stained dress that was her only protection.

How she survived baffled a doctor and Red Cross workers who finally reached her on Saturday. On Sunday she was resting at a hospital near the rebel-held eastern Zairean town of Bukavu.

Throughout Marie’s ordeal, United Nations-backed meetings were taking place to discuss how the international community could help the possibly hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees like her trapped in eastern Zaire.

On Friday, following another meeting in Ottawa, Canada, it seemed the response would be to airdrop food and supplies.

“If food or medical supplies dropped just three feet away from Marie it would be too far to help her,” said the doctor who treated her on Sunday. “This woman needed expert personal attention.”

Marie’s plight was first raised with United Nations officials in eastern Zaire on November 26 by Reuters journalists who uncovered evidence of a massacre at Chimanga on November 17.

She was one of around 3,000 Hutu refugees who stayed put as Interahamwe militiamen and former Rwandan army troops — who locals say were included in the 25,000-person camp — fled west after Zairean rebels laid siege to them.

The rebels, Marie told Reuters, gathered the remaining refugees and told them they would be repatriated. Instead, as they lined up expecting to go home, the rebels lobbed grenades into the group and opened fire.

At least 300 people were killed. The rest, including more than 100 with serious bullet and shrapnel wounds, fled into the surrounding bush, villagers say.

Aid officials say they were unable to visit the area to help survivors because rebel authorities in Bukavu will not allow them to travel more than 30 km (18 miles) from the town. Authorities say they cannot guarantee their safety.

Chimanga, about 100 km (60 miles) south of Bukavu, was finally reached by a Medicien Sans Frontiers (MSF) doctor and Bukavu Red Cross workers who got special permision to accompany Reuters journalists returning to the area.

As they tended to her wounds, a group of rebel soldiers suddenly appeared and insisted the convoy left. After much persuasion, they agreed to allow aid workers to take Marie and five other seriously injured people back to Bukavu.

One man, shot through the leg, was found hiding in a filthy pig pen. As he was stretchered out he gasped and shook with terror when he saw the rebel soldiers.

Local villagers simply refused to talk to aid workers while the soldiers were present. They signalled furtively behind their backs to indicate where a six-year-old girl — shot through the hip — was hiding. A mother and her two children, all with bullet wounds, were found nearby.

Aid workers are reluctant to call publicly for an intervention force in the region for fear of upsetting authorities.

Privately, however, most say that a force is necessary on the ground to make conditions safe enough for them to help people like Marie.

Rebel authorities do not want a force because they fear it could hinder the sweeping advances they have made against Zairean government troops in the past month.

The Zairean government wants one but has wavered in giving formal agreement. Meanwhile, aid workers say, tens of thousands of refugees — many of them starving or wounded — are scattered across eastern Zaire, waiting for airdrops they may not even know about or cannot reach even if they do.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Never work with children or animals

Zairean rebels advance on broad front.

By David Fox

BUKAVU, Zaire, Dec 2 (Reuter) – Zairean rebels said on Monday they had captured towns at the northern and southern ends of a front 400 km (250 miles) long and had penetrated parts of the regional capital Kisangani.

Missionaries confirmed earlier that the rebels routed the Zairean army at the northern town of Beni on Saturday and were advancing towards the larger town of Bunia.

The Zairean troops, reportedly looting and raping as they went, fled through eastern Zaire in apparent disarray.

They have failed to make a coherent counter-offensive since the rebels defeated them around the eastern border towns of Goma and Bukova in October. The campaign has displaced hundreds of thousands, many of them refugees from neighbouring Rwanda.

Laurent Kabila, leader of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for Liberation of Congo-Zaire, told reporters on Monday another conquest by his forces was Kamituga, a gold and diamond mining centre 90 km (55 miles) southwest of Bukavu.

“On the northern front we are still advancing. Beni has fallen. Today is the second day of our control of Beni,” he said. “In the south we have now got Kamituga town, we have been there for two days now,” Kabila added.

He said some 700 Zairean soldiers aided by Rwanda’s former Hutu army had fled Beni. “Villagers in Beni complained to our forces of extensive rapings, beatings and killings by the fleeing soldiers,” he added.

One of his lieutenants, Commander John Kabunga, told Reuters in Goma that the rebels had entered Kisangani, the largest city in eastern Zaire, and were in control of parts of it.

That advance, if confirmed, would be a serious blow to the Zairean government and to the morale of its forces. Kisangani, 500 km (300 miles) northwest of Goma, is the site of a major air base essential to any counter-attack.

“Parts of our forces are now in control of parts of Kisangani. We went there by bypassing the town of Walikale, which is still giving us problems,” Kabunga said.

Kabunga said rebel forces had also tried to enter the town of Bunia beyond Beni, which is in rebel hands, but had encountered resistance in the heavily fortified town.

“There are a lot of Zairean soldiers in Bunia. At the moment things are hard for us there,” he added.

Kabila said the expatriate staff at the mining centre at Kamituga, where South Africa’s Anglo-American corporation has substantial interests, had fled westwards.

In far off Kinshasa, the government confirmed the fall of Beni but said this was the work of the Ugandan army, which says it has been attacking Ugandan rebels on the border nearby.

The government accused Uganda of using tanks and armoured vehicles to capture both Beni and the border town of Kasindi.

“The occupation by Ugandan troops of the towns of Beni, coupled with declarations by Uganda’s government spokesman, who says the Ugandan soldiers will remain in Zaire until the Zairean government stops aiding Uganda Moslem rebels…constitutes a pretext to justify unprovoked aggression against Zaire,” Interior Minister Kamanda wa Kamanda said in a statement.

Shortly before Beni fell, businessmen in radio contact with missionary organisations in the Kenyan capital Nairobi reported Ugandan soldiers were taking part in the fighting.

“It was not clear at first if the town had fallen to the rebels or the Ugandans,” said one radio operator. He added there had been a total radio silence since its fall.

The Ugandan government denies it is helping the Zairean rebels, despite its close ties with the government of Rwanda, which is actively supporting the ADFL.

Diplomats in Kinshasa fear that the direct involvement of Ugandan troops considerably increases the difficulties in deploying an international force in the region and of finding a solution to the spreading conflict in eastern Zaire.

After the weekend’s events, Kamanda sent a statement to the Security Council, saying Uganda’s involvement in the conflict disqualified the country as a base for U.N. troops.

Lieutenant-General Maurice Baril, the Canadian commander of the proposed multinational force to help feed Rwandan refugees and Zaireans displaced by the fighting in eastern Zaire, has set up a forward headquarters at Entebbe in Uganda.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


The Ruwenzori, famed "Mountains of the Moon".

Thousands flee fighting in southwestern Uganda.

By David Fox

BWERA, Uganda, Dec 6 (Reuter) – Thousands of people fled villages and hamlets in Uganda’s Ruwenzori mountains on Friday as Ugandan troops fought rebels pushed out of bases in eastern Zaire.

Ugandan soldiers said the rebels were looting, raping women and torching fields in the Ruwenzori mountains, the famed “Mountains of the Moon” straddling southwestern Uganda’s border with Zaire.

“They crossed over in numbers but we have got them on the run,” said a Ugandan soldier at Bwera, a small border town.

A steady stream of people emerged from the countryside loaded with mattresses and bundles of belongings and took to the road from Bwera to Kasese, a provincial centre 50 km (30 miles) away.

“There has been a lot of fighting in the hills,” said a woman. “Last night, again this morning. It is not safe.”

Soldiers in Bwera told Reuters about 800 rebels of the Moslem Allied Democratic Force had crossed into Uganda from eastern Zaire on Tuesday and attacked the border town.

Dozens of homes were gutted and bullet cases littered the street. Ugandan troops on Friday were in force in the town and manned a checkpoint guarded by a tank and patrolled the road linking Uganda to Zaire.

The soldiers said Zairean Banyamulenge rebels flushed the Ugandan rebels out of Zaire in their offensive since October.

They said the Ugandan rebels had been crossing into Uganda for about five years to mount attacks and loot villages.

Soldiers in Bwera said Zairean government forces still held the Zairean town of Kasindi, 10 km (six miles) west of the border with Uganda but they expected it to fall soon to Zairean rebels. They refused to allow journalists to cross the border.

But Ugandan troops were clearly in control of Kasindi on Thursday despite the Ugandan army saying all its troops had returned home following a brief incursion three km (two miles) into Zaire last week.

A Ugandan commander in Kasindi told Reuters his troops would leave on Saturday because the Ugandan rebels had been crushed.

Villagers on the road in Uganda on Friday said the rebels apparently had no clear strategy. “They are just running, but they shoot anyone they see,” said a woman. “All night there was shooting.”

Many of the displaced said they were heading for friends or relatives in Kasese for shelter until the fighting ended. Troops said they had killed dozens of rebels and captured about 30.

Zaire accuses Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda of sending troops to fight alongside the Zairean rebels who have seized a front 550 km (340 miles) long running north-south parallel to Zaire’s eastern border.

The Ugandan government recognises Kinshasa has lost control of much of eastern Zaire to the rebels and has blamed Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi for anti-Ugandan rebel attacks.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Uganda troops leave border town to Zaire rebels.

By David Fox

KASINDI, Zaire, Dec 9 (Reuter) – Zaireans rebels have taken control of the border town of Kasindi following the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the area, officials said on Monday.

“We arrived on Sunday and there was nobody here but the Ugandans,” said one Banyamulenge rebel officer at Kasindi, the small border town that serves as an artery to Beni, some 75 km (45 miles) to the northwest.

Ugandan officers at Bwera, across the border, said they had seized control of the town two weeks ago following sniping and shelling from Ugandan rebels based there.

“The Zaireans had fled and there were just the (Ugandan) rebels left,” said Captain Peter Magara. “They started hitting us so we had no choice but to attack.”

Magara said the rebels, who had been based there for five years staging sporadic attacks, had fled deep into the Ruwenzori range that divides western Uganda from eastern Zaire.

“We have pulled everyone out now…the Banyamulenge are in charge over there,” said Magara.

The level of Ugandan support for the Zairean rebels is not clear. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s Hima group has ethnic links with the Tutsi Banyamulenge who form an important part of the rebel alliance.

Ugandan troops have staged deep forays into Zaire in the past two weeks in pursuit of Ugandan Allied Democratic Force (ADF) rebels who Uganda says are backed by Sudan.

The Ugandan rebels lost their power base as Zairean government troops abandoned the area in the face of increasing attacks by Zairean rebels, who have captured a large strip of the east.

The Zairean rebels, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), hold the towns of Uvira, Kamanyola, Bukavu, Goma, Butembo and Beni, controlling the significant border points linking Zaire to its eastern neighbours Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Dozens of trucks loaded with goods for Beni usually cross at Kasindi every day, but on Monday only two vehicles crossed. Ugandan troops said no cars had passed for over two weeks.

“The road to Beni is secured,” said one of the Banyamulenge rebels. “The area is clear and it is now safe to drive through.”

Captain Magara said a first group of Banyamulenge rebels arrived at Kasindi on Sunday, introduced themselves and offered to take over.

“We could tell they were in charge so we left,” he said. “From now on it is a matter for them.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Fox from Zim, live from the Tanzania-Rwanda border

Tanzania drives 200,000 refugees toward Rwanda.

By David Fox

RUSOMO, Tanzania, Dec 15 (Reuter) – The Tanzanian army on Sunday drove an estimated 200,000 refugees from the largest refugee camp in Tanzania and herded them along the road to the nearby Rusomo border crossing into Rwanda.

The Rwandan Hutu refugees told reporters soldiers entered Benaco camp around noon (0900 GMT) and forced them out using sticks and batons.

“I didn’t want to go but the soldiers said we must — so what else could we do?” Jean-Marie Nundanutsa said.

Earlier, thousands of refugees who had bedded down in the open overnight, some cooking frugal meals over wood fires, resumed their trek towards Rusomo at dawn. They crossed in a steady stream, estimated by witnesses at 1,000 an hour.

In hot sun, the refugees drove cattle, pushed cars and wheeled bicycles loaded with their possessions along the 17-km (10-mile) road from Benaco camp to Rusomo.

From Rusomo, an unbroken mass of refugees stretched back as far as the eye could see.

Officials at the remote border post west of Lake Victoria said about 9,000 refugees had crossed over during Saturday night.

The border post, normally closed at night, remained open to allow the flow of refugees, the second major mass repatriation into Rwanda in five weeks, to continue.

The exodus followed talks between camp leaders in Benaco and officials of the Tanzanian government, which says it wants all 540,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees in Tanzania out by December 31.

Aid workers said most of the refugees arriving at the border on Sunday morning had come from camps south of Benaco.

They had been shepherded past the Benaco camp by Tanzanian security forces, who told them to keep moving towards the border.

“Many people are walking in the right direction,” said Anne Willem Bijleveld of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

Bijleveld said soldiers walked with refugees but “in a humane manner” and even assisted the needy.

Before the first column reached the border on Saturday, witnesses said hundreds of thousands were streaming towards Rusomo from as far away as Nyakahura, about 100 km (65 miles) to the southeast.

On the Rwandan side of the border, aid agencies set up water points, health posts and biscuit distribution sites along a 100-km (65-mile) route from the frontier, and Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu visited the area to welcome the returning refugees, witnesses said.

About 200,000 of the refugees originally came from villages within 30 km (18 miles) of the Rusomo crossing and were expected to walk back to their former homes.

U.N. aid officials said they believed a rush away from the border by hundreds of thousands of refugees on Thursday broke the grip of the Hutu intimidators who had ordered the refugees not to try to return to Rwanda.

Troops and police turned back refugees who had earlier headed inland into Tanzania from their camps, telling them instead to walk towards the Rwanda border.

It was unclear whether any action was being taken by Tanzanian security forces to restrain the Hutu militiamen and former Rwandan troops, who fear to return because of involvement in the genocide of up to a million people in Rwanda in 1994.

In addition to more than 500,000 Rwandan refugees, there were 112,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania.

The latest migration was the second mass return of Rwandan refugees. More than 500,000 left Zaire in four days from November 15 after a rebellion by Zairean Tutsis broke the Hutu intimidators’ hold.

The United Nations has ordered 350 Canadian servicemen and women, the basis of a multinational force destined for eastern Zaire, to pull out and return home from their bases in Uganda and Rwanda. The force, formed in mid-November, was rejected by the Zairean rebels who now control a large slice of eastern Zaire. It was unable to help Rwandan refugees in Zaire and also failed to win the support of other nations.

African leaders including South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela are due to meet in Nairobi on Monday to discuss efforts to control conflict in Zaire and the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Babies born on roadside amidst exodus from Tanzania.

By David Fox

RUSUMO, Rwanda, Dec 17 (Reuter) – Weakened Hutu women gave birth on the roadside and amputees struggled to get water as a column of refugees returning to Rwanda from Tanzania stretched for more than 50 km (30 miles) on Tuesday, aid workers said.

To ensure the mass exodus maintained its momentum, Tanzanian authorities rounded up suspected Hutu hardliners accused of trying to stop many of the 542,000 Rwandan refugees in Tanzania from going back to their homeland.

“A total of 57,000 have crossed today, making about 200,000 altogether,” said Anne Willem Bijleveld of the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) at Rusumo border crossing on the Kagera river.

“There are about 100,000 to 150,000 on the way,” he said.

Inside Tanzania the river of refugees stretched for some 30 km (20 miles), he said. On the Rwandan side of the border, a thick line of plodding refugees stretched for 25 km (15 miles) to Rwanteru town, where they boarded hundreds of trucks and buses on their way home.

Refugees as far as the eye can see .................(Picture by Martha Rial)

Fifty babies had been born on the road in the last 36 hours, according to Jacques Godon of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

He said the refugees were growing weaker as some had been walking for days.

In lines snaking towards Rwanda, mothers tied themselves to their children with yellow string supplied by the Red Cross after hundreds of children were lost in the crush at the border.

Reporters saw Rwandan security men in civilian clothes prevent refugees, including amputees on crutches, from using water points on the route to keep them moving up a steep winding road from Rusumo. Aid workers confirmed that Rwandan authorities were blocking access to some water points they had set up.

Inside Tanzania, 70 suspected Hutu intimidators has been seized by Rwandan authorities by Monday and were being taken to a special camp, aid workers said.

Former Hutu Interahamwe militiamen and troops have refused to go back to Rwanda, saying they will be attacked or jailed for their part in the genocide of minority Tutsis in 1994.

The officials expected arrested intimidators to be handed to Rwandan authorities by Tanzania, which hosts a U.N. tribunal charged with bringing the leaders of the genocide to justice.

“On Monday trucks of young men were being driven north under police escort,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Judith Melby in Ngara.

The mass repatriation of refugees began on Saturday. UNHCR said a total of some 30,000 crossed in the first two days.

The exodus from Tanzania follows the return of an estimated 600,000 Hutu refugees from eastern Zaire, where a Tutsi-led rebellion forced them all to abandon their camps last month.

The refugees left Rwanda in 1994 when troops, militiamen and mobs slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Rwandan Tutsi rebels then drove them out of the country and formed the present government.

The bulk of Rwandan Hutu refugees in Tanzania fled away from the border last week after the Tanzanian government set a December 31 deadline for them to go home. But many were turned around by Tanzanian troops and police at times wielding sticks.

Melby said some 280,000 Rwandan refugees were accounted for including 100,000 holding out in the bush about 90 km (55 miles) southeast of the town of Ngara, the centre for aid operations.

“The situation there is pretty desperate. In Kitali (camp) a whole group of refugees is staying there and the sanitary situation is not very good — that’s our worry,” Melby said.

A Tanzanian army lieutenant-colonel said Hutus hiding in the bush might encounter lions.

Benaco camp, the largest Rwandan camp in Tanzania, was empty by Monday. In one hut, a child’s homework lay unfinished on a wooden desk and a pot of bean stew was upended in a fireplace.

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Rwanda’s Hutus face off over their former homes.

By David Fox

KAYONZA, Rwanda, Dec 18 (Reuter) – Pasteur Nratuga returned to Rwanda from a two-and-a-half years in exile in Tanzania on Wednesday to find his small banana grove intact, his vegetable garden neatly tended and his house even fitted with a new roof.

The problem is however that his Hutu neighbour is now living in Nratuga’s house and does not particularly want to move out.

“This is my house and before me it was my father’s house,” Nratuga told Reuters after he returned on Wednesday to a small hamlet near Kayonza, 60 km (36 miles) west of the capital Kigali.

“It is my house now,” said Louis Yenmumba, Nratuga’s former neighbour and now the new occupant. “When I moved in it was destroyed. I have rebuilt it and it is my house now.”

The dilemma of Yenmumba and Nratuga — both Hutus and also related by marriage — is the same for millions of Rwandans following the return more than 800,000 refugees from Zaire and Tanzania in the past five weeks.

Almost one in six Rwandans is a recently returned refugee.

Most lived simple subsistance lives until April 1994 when, urged on by leaders and Interahamwe militiamen, thousands joined in a slaughter of over one million Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

More than two million Hutus fled Rwanda in fear of reprisals for the genocide in 1994 as the Tutsi-led rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front defeated the Hutu army and put an end to the slaughter.

Tutsis now dominate the Rwandan army and hold key government positions but Hutus still dominate the 6.8 million population.

The government has ordered any Tutsis who moved into homes abandoned by fleeing Hutus to surrender them within 15 days of the former occupants’ return. But most rural homes abandoned by fleeing Hutus were taken over by other Hutus who want to stay.

“It isn’t as clear cut as you might think,” said an engineer for a German aid organisation helping build houses. “It isn’t a case of Hutu in, Tutsi out.”

In some cases there are few problems. Relatives move in with relatives until a new home is built. But, like Yenmumba, thousands are reluctant to give up what they consider theirs.

In the cities the problem is less acute. Many Hutu city dwellers were middle-class and educated and many were implicated in the genocide and therefore are unlikely to return home.

Nratuga like hundreds of thousands of fellow Hutu returnees is at a loss to say how he came to be in his pitiful situation.

The clothes he and his wife wear are the only ones they own.

Their four children wear little more than rags and their possessions are three pots, a mattress, two blankets, a sheet of blue plastic, a water container and 30 kg (66 pounds) of beans.

“We ran away because of the war,” he said. “We were just innocent people, but we were very scared. In the camps we kept by ourselves and dreamed of returning.”

Nratuga says that on hearing Tanzanian authorities planned to force home refugees from Benaco camp, the largest in Tanzania, by December 31 he headed deeper into Tanzania.

“We didn’t want to go back so we went with the others,” he said. Turned back by Tanzanian soldiers, he meekly went home.

Nratuga said he and his family had been on the road for 10 days since leaving Benaco on foot. Yenmumba says he is a fool.

“I am a Hutu, yet I stayed,” said Yenmumba. “I am happy they have come back but they are stupid. They walk there, they walk here…are we sure they didn’t walk for a reason?”

As Nratuga left the hamlet to seek shelter with relatives elsewhere, Yenmumba could scarcely disguise his disdain.

“He won’t come back,” he said. “He knows I am right…next time he comes back I will call the soldiers and tell them he is Interahamwe…maybe he is.”

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Hotel Rwanda ... the Milles Collines, Kigali

Kigali’s bright young things ignore refugees.

By David Fox

KIGALI, Dec 22 (Reuter) – As hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutus try to rebuild their lives after two and a half years as refugees, Kigali’s young Tutsi elite are more concerned with cars, music and fashion.

“Many people in the city know about the refugees returning but there are some who haven’t even seen one,” said Yahyha Mulivini, a middle-class Rwandan of mixed Hutu-Tutsi parentage.

“The refugees are a problem for the countryside, not the city. Money is what people in Kigali are interested in.”

At the Piano Bar, the trendiest night spot, dozens of young, well-educated Tutsis dressed in designer jeans dance to a band pumping out a mix of reggae, blues and rap music.

They cheer wildly as an extravagantly dreadlocked singer improvises to a Bob Marley hit: “Kagame is our hero … he sent the enemy away … freedom will be ours.”

The town clearly belongs to the sons and daughters of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which seized power in 1994.

The Tutsis had been a cowed minority since 1959 when the former colonial power Belgium installed a Hutu government that openly resented the privileges enjoyed by their often wealthier, better-educated countrymen.

Their oppression came to a head in 1994 when the shooting down of a plane carrying Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana unleashed an orgy of violence in which up to one million Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered.

The RPF, led by current vice-president Paul Kagame, swept to Kigali from their exile in southern Uganda, where they had also significantly helped Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni take power — sparking the exodus of over two million refugees to Zaire and Tanzania.

As the refugees return, mainly to the countryside from where they fled, Rwanda’s Tutsi young are living the high life.

Kigali is full of smart new cars — many right-hand drive vehicles imported from Dubai — and there is nothing the city lacks.

A U.S.-educated optician can run you up a pair of spectacles for $120 in less than an hour. Dozens of shops sell expensive stereos, televisions and cameras; clothes shops are packed with the latest European fashions and chemists do a brisk trade in imported perfumes.

In the car park of the Cadillac disco, young men try to outdo each other by blaring the latest Western hits from their car stereos.

Inside, the men are outnumbered two to one by elegant Tutsi women vying for dance partners.

“Will you be my friend?” asks one, who gives her name only as Maribelle. “I am not a prostitute, I just need some money to buy clothes.”

Maribelle, born and brought up in Uganda, says she works for an airline company and her father is a government official.

“We are all having fun here now,” she says. “Refugees? I’m not interested in them. They are all farmers.”

While Kigali still shows signs of the battles that raged in 1994, the city is being given a slow facelift.

The Umubano Hotel is to begin a $5 million renovation in January, work has started on a digital telephone system and a huge fountain in the city centre is being repaired after lying dormant for over five years.

But one Asian businessman who runs a general store says the good life might not last.

“I don’t know where the money is coming from, because there clearly aren’t enough jobs for all these people,” he said. “People seem to be living off their parents, but how long can that last?”

(c) Reuters Limited 1996


Zaire tempers optimism under rebels with old fears.

By David Fox

BUKAVU, May 18 (Reuter) – A secretary to a company executive in Zaire’s eastern city of Bukavu explained graphically some months ago what difference the arrival of Laurent Kabila’s rebels made to her life.

“Before, if I was raped once a week, that was a good week,” she told Reuters.

“I used to dress badly on purpose when I walked past army barracks. I used to try make myself look poor so that I would be left alone. Now I don’t have to do that.”

Civilians already living under rebel rule in eastern Zaire for months are overall optimistic and relieved at the departure of the corrupt government army, finally defeated with the fall of the capital Kinshasa this weekend.

In the northeastern city of Kisangani last week Clement Mapangala wore a white hat branded “Association of Money Changers” as he went about business trying to coax foreigners to buy Zaire’s currency at the rate of 75,000 to the dollar.

“I could never do this before,” he said, openly touting wads of notes the size of house bricks. “If the soldiers thought I had even a small amount of money they would take it.”

For hundreds of thousands of people across Zaire, Kabila’s rebellion has brought positive changes few dared dream would happen in their lifetime. But many of their old problems remain.

Those who have already tasted life under new Zaire strongman Kabila say it is far better than under the regime of ousted President Mobutu Sese Seko. But they add it still has a long way to go to meet their needs.

“The important thing that Kabila has given us is hope,” said Pyus Bitulu, a graduate engineer from Kisangani who has worked as a motorcycle taxi driver since leaving university in 1979.

“Next week I am going to Goma to look for work as an engineer,” he said. “I have heard they are hiring people there.”

In Goma, signs of Mobutu’s rule vanished swiftly after the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) seized the city last November at the start of their revolt.

At the Sacred Heart girls school, a white patch stands out on the yellowing walls inside all the classrooms — Mobutu’s official portraits have long been consigned to the rubbish bin.

A class of 16-year-old girls hisses in unison when asked what they think of their former ruler. They cheer and ululate when asked about Kabila.

But at an official level, signs of the old Zaire remain.

“The alliance has replaced a corrupt, inefficient, cumbersome beauracracy with one that is merely inefficient and cumbersome,” said a businessman who has worked in the region for more than 10 years.

In the past, traders had to bribe scores of officials to prompt them to do what they were supposed to be paid to do.

Today it costs just as much to do business. The bribes have merely been replaced by “taxes” complete with official receipts bearing stamps copied directly from the Walt Disney cartoon “The Lion King”.

In many cases even the officials have remained in place.

In Kisangani last week, taxi drivers became embroiled in a furious row with Airport Authority officials demanding they pay $10 every time they drop off passengers.

“You disappeared when the Alliance came,” shouted an angry driver. “Now you are back — even wearing the same uniforms. Go to hell.” Rebel soldiers intervened and the airport officials beat a retreat.

The fact ordinary Zaireans are prepared to have Kabila’s forces intervene in disputes speaks volumes for the new-found faith they have in the army. But disquiet and suspicion remain.

Last week in Kisangani a taxi driver knocked down and injured a rebel. He was beaten up by other rebels and hustled into their barracks. Neither he nor his car has been seen since.

But local merchants, frequently the best barometer of confidence, are moving back into shops they abandoned years ago because they were being robbed nightly — usually by soldiers.

(c) Reuters Limited 1997


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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