Rwandan refugee tide swells
KIGALI, Rwanda (CNN) -- Thousands of Rwandan refugees who had
resisted returning to their homeland from Tanzania were
pouring across the border Monday.
Red Cross officials told CNN some 18,000 refugees an hour
were crossing a narrow bridge over the Kagera
River into Rwanda from Tanzania. As many as 200,000 refugees
were expected to cross the border Monday.
Of the 150,000 to 200,000 refugees in line to cross the
border, about half were from the Kitali Hills camp and nearby
areas. And at least 50,000 were from the Benaca camp.
Nowhere to go but home
The refugees started streaming back into Rwanda again at dawn
as Tanzanians reopened the border after closing it for part
of the night.
Most of the refugees fled from Rwanda to Tanzania in 1994,
when more than a million Rwandan Hutus scattered into
neighboring countries. The refugees feared retribution for a
Hutu-led genocide of at least 500,000 minority Tutsis.
But with their camps cleared by Tanzanian authorities and
passage away from Rwanda blocked, they had nowhere else to
Hundreds of lost children
Some refugees said Tanzanian troops used batons and fired
tear gas and gunshots into the air to force them out of the
bush and onto the road. The claims have not been verified.
By Monday, more than 200 children had been separated from
their parents in the crush. A U.N. official said the total
could reach 1,000 by the end of the day.
Mothers were given pieces of yellow string by the Red Cross
so they could tie themselves to their children in the lines
snaking towards Rwanda.
Drinking water, vital in the equatorial heat of December, is
said to be in short supply because tankers cannot pass along
Screening for fugitives
On the Rwandan side, the column of refugees narrows after
crossing the bridge. The refugees are continuing along the
road through the hills to a transit camp, where the identity
of some was said to have been checked by Rwandan authorities.
The mass-repatriation nearly matches in scale the dramatic
return of more than 300,000 Hutu refugees from Zaire last
month, marking a closing chapter in a refugee crisis that has
dominated Rwanda's political environment for the past two
years since the end of the genocide of Tutsis.
The crucial question of what will happen to Rwandan Hutu
militiamen remains. Tanzanian authorities arrested 50
militiamen Monday and took them to a camp in Mwezi, northeast
of the Ngara refugee camp area, according to Paul Stromberg,
a spokesman for the United Nations High Commission on
Refugees in Kigali.
Judith Melby of the UN Commission
on Refugees comments from Tanzania
|| (272K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
African leaders were to meet Monday in Nairobi, Kenya, to
discuss regional problems, including the instability in
Zaire, the political and ethnic violence in Burundi and the
refugees' return to Rwanda.
International Correspondent Catherine Bond contributed to
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