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Initial aid teams reach towns in eastern Zaire

Security problems delay full-scale relief

November 11, 1996
Web posted at: 9:50 a.m. EST (0250 GMT)

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KIGALI, Rwanda (CNN) -- Aid workers, carrying emergency medical and food supplies, crossed Zaire's Rwandan border Monday and reached the rebel-held towns of Goma and Bukavu, U.N. officials said.

The Tutis-led Zairian rebels, who have taken control of much of eastern Zaire, agreed Sunday to clear a corridor for humanitarian aid to reach more than 1 million Rwandan Hutu refugees and Zairians who fled the region when the fighting began early last month.

A U.N. team made the trek to Bukavu, while a group of international aid agencies reached Goma.

"They got thoroughly searched (by rebel forces) at the border and they only took in emergency food supplies for patients in hospitals and enough drugs to treat them," Samantha Bolton, a spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders, said.


"Full-scale operations will only go ahead after they have made their security assessments, in a day or two," she added, speaking in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

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.

Many of the refugees were Hutus who originally fled from Rwanda to Zaire to escape Tutsi reprisals after Hutus massacred up to 1 million Tutsis and others 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.

The organization's Humaintarian Affairs Commissioner Emma Bonino, in Zaire to see the refugee crisis firsthand, blasted the United State for holding up the force.

"The states who prevented a force being deployed are an international scandal... an 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 called for 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 that 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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