Exodus from Zaire slows, further sparking debate over relief mission
November 18, 1996
Web posted at: 6:20 p.m. EST (2320 GMT)
From Correspondents Christiane Amanpour and Mike Hanna
GISENYI, Rwanda (CNN) -- The exodus of Rwandan refugees from
eastern Zaire slowed further Monday, even as a debate began
over whether a multinational force for the region was still
necessary. Relief agencies, meanwhile, said they would
intensify their efforts to assist hundreds of thousands of
refugees still stranded in eastern Zaire.
United Nations officials estimate that some 500,000 refugees
have crossed from the Mugunga camp near Goma into the Rwandan border
town of Gisenyi in the past three days. Hundreds of
thousands more are still moving out of the Goma area further
inland. Mugunga itself is now largely deserted.
(283 K / 26 sec. AIFF or WAV sound Amanpour says the tide of human wave is ebbing)
The Rwandans' return is widely seen as a boost for
plans to ease the refugee crisis. But it has also sparked
calls in some quarters to possibly reconsider plans for a
multinational force approved last week by the U.N. Security Council.
Canada, which would lead such a mission, says plans must go
ahead, although Canadian Defense Minister Doug Young said Monday the planned military force could be scaled back to simple humanitarian relief units.
France, the first country to call for outside
intervention, also agrees a full mission is necessary. The European Union's aid commissioner, Emma Bonino, echoes those sentiments, saying refugees are at risk.
But other countries, including the United States, are hinting
that they could drop out of the relief mission. Washington
has long been lukewarm to the idea of outside intervention.
And Monday the U.S. military announced that a meeting in
Germany of countries participating in the force has now been
postponed to Thursday, a day later than originally planned.
Many Hutu refugees, meanwhile, are finding it difficult to
reclaim the homes they abandoned more than two years ago.
The refugees fled Rwanda following the 1994 Hutu-led
genocide of ethnic Tutsis. Their homes were
then taken over by Tutsi civilians and militia, who are now
refusing to leave. There are reports that some returning
Hutus have been killed in property disputes, or by Rwanda's
(288 K / 23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound Amanpour describes what refugees find as they return home)
The Rwandan government denies that, but admits it needs help
to resettle the Hutus. Kigali is calling on the
international community to provide the Hutus with the means
to build new homes and farms, to enable them to begin a new
Even as thousands of Rwandans continue to return home, yet
others -- perhaps as many as 800,000 -- remain in Eastern
Zaire. Most of them are believed to be stranded at makeshift
camps near Lake Kivu, or in the mountains and hills
surrounding Bukavu and adjoining towns. Relief agencies say
they will attempt to reach these refugees this week if
possible. Making an already chaotic situation more confusing
is the plight of thousands of Zairian civilians, who fled
their homes in Goma and other areas when Zairian Tutsi rebels
launched their offensive several weeks ago.
The rebels, who control much of eastern Zaire, have vowed to
battle Zairian forces all the way to the capital, Kinshasa,
in an effort to topple the government of Mobuto Sese Seko,
the country's ailing president.
Mobuto has welcomed the possibility of multinational troops
intervening to ease the refugee crisis. But many observers
say the president's role in his nation's affairs has been
seriously diluted. He currently remains at his villa in the
south of France, recovering from treatment for prostate
cancer. On Monday, Mobuto was dealt another blow when
Switzerland refused to grant him a visa to return to
Lausanne for follow-up treatment. Mobuto, who has ruled
Zaire for decades, is believed to have hoarded billions of
dollars in Swiss bank accounts.
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