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Zairian Tutsi rebels permit humanitarian aid corridor

Hutu refugee plight worsens as political maneuvering delays U.N. force

November 10, 1996
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EST (0130 GMT)

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KINSHASA, Zaire (CNN) -- Help could be on the way to beleaguered refugees in eastern Zaire, although aid workers say thousands could die of starvation and disease before a neutral military force is in place to stabilize the tumultuous region.

Tutsi-led Zairian rebels, who control much of the region, agreed Sunday to clear a humanitarian corridor to reach more than a million Hutu refugees, many of whom are on the verge of starvation or death by disease.

International aid workers will enter the rebel-held region to assess the situation as early as Monday.

"We have reached an agreement with them and we'll be sending in assessment teams first thing tomorrow." said Omar Backhet, resident representative of the United Nations Development Program in Rwanda. "The teams will be made up of non- governmental agencies and within a day or two U.N. agencies should be able to go in as well."

The Tutsi-led government of Rwanda also has authorized aid agencies to deliver food and medicine from its territory to Hutus in the rebel-held east.

Hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees and displaced Zairians fled a recent Tutsi revolt in eastern Zaire, and the whereabouts of many remain unknown.

Many of the refugees were Hutus who originally fled from Rwanda to Zaire to escape Tutsi reprisals after Hutus massacred up to one million Tutsis and other victims in 1994. Hutu gunmen who led the genocide are with the Hutu refugees and remain armed.

The latest crisis may precipitate a solution to the region's refugee problem, aid workers hope. As Hutu refugees return to Rwanda via the humanitarian corridor opened by the Tutsis, they may wind up becoming separated from the armed Hutu militants who are wanted for war crimes.


Extremely frustrating

Even with rebel cooperation, the refugees confront a dire situation. Aid officials estimate several hundred refugees a day have died since fighting began three weeks ago, and that 80,000 infants will perish this month unless aid reaches them.

International officials Sunday expressed exasperation at various delays that have held up implementation of an international military force to stabilize the region and guide the flow of aid.

The European Commission wants the U.N. security council to call for the immediate creation of a multinational force, but the council postponed a decision on deployment until November 20.

Emma Bonino, in Zaire to see the refugee crisis first hand, blasted the United State for holding up the force.

"The states who prevented a force being deployed are an international international disgrace," said Bonino. "How can I tell them the Security Council doesn't see...doesn't listen...doesn't care."

France vs. U.S.

The delays in large part stem from the complex interplay between global powers and the lingering effects of the region's colonial legacy.

France, urging speedy action, has championed an international force consisting of European, U.S. and African troops. But the Rwandan Tutsis and their Zairian Tutsi rebel allies oppose a role in the region for France, which they claim supports their Hutu enemies.

Washington, whose reservations delayed action by the security council, complained the aid mission lacks clarity. And U.S. officials are suspicious that France is seeking to cement its influence in the region.

Meanwhile, 11 tons of aid from Spain -- food, blankets and tents -- arrived in the Zairian capital Kinshasa Sunday. Officials said it would be given to the national Red Cross for distribution to the refugees.

Christiane Amanpour and Reuters contributed to this report.


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