'Exodus of a nation' Victorious Rwandan rebels urge end to Hutus' flight, install Hutu president

July 20, 1994|By Glenn Burkins | Glenn Burkins,Knight-Ridder News Service

BUKAVU, Zaire -- Victorious rebel troops installed an ethnically mixed government in Rwanda yesterday, but fear and Hutu propaganda continued to drive hundreds of thousands from the country.

"It's really an exodus of a nation. The whole country is coming out of its borders. We can't cope," Panos Moumtzis, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Goma.

Scores of refugees were dying of hunger, dehydration and disease.

In a crowded border refugee camp here at Bukavu, former official Nathaniel Nsengiyumva paced by his makeshift tent yesterday with an uneasy look on his face. He had not eaten in more than 24 hours, he said, and he was wondering aloud when food might arrive.

"It's really bad," said Mr. Nsengiyumva, 45, who arrived in the camp late Sunday after walking two days to get there. "Many people are hungry. We have nothing. No homes, no food."

Things have not always been thus for Mr. Nsengiyumva, who moved with a certain dignity, even in the humbling blight of a refugee camp. Until recently, he had been a magistrate in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, he said. But that was before the great exodus.

By yesterday, aid workers here in Zaire were estimating that as many as 1.3 million people had fled the tiny central African nation.

Mr. Nsengiyumva was among the latest. With the town of Goma already bursting with up to 1 million refugees, a new crisis may be brewing here in Bukavu, where more than 300,000 are believed to have arrived since Sunday.

Aid workers are overwhelmed. At no time in recent memory have so many people left one country in such a short period of time.

"The situation is apocalyptic, and we can't perform miracles," said Nina Winquist, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Goma. "Sometimes we feel like we are carrying water to the thirsty but finding we have a hole in our bucket."

In Kigali, the Tutsi-led rebels installed a new government and urged a halt to the flight from Rwanda. The new government has an ethnic Hutu as president and the rebel military commander as his vice president and defense minister.

"Today is a day of joy and sorrow," the rebel leader, Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, 37, said as he was sworn in as vice president and defense minister.

"The [rebel] army has removed a system of oppression and dictatorship, but only at the cost of many lives."

Pasteur Bizimungu was inaugurated as president, and Faustin Twagiramungu was sworn in as prime minister. Both are moderate Hutus.

The makeup of the new government generally follows the power-sharing plan worked out in a peace agreement that was signed last August to end a three-year civil war.

The agreement was never implemented, and the war resumed after the Hutu president was killed when his plane was apparently shot down in April. His allies then began a systematic slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Rebel leader Alexis Kanyarengwe asked the refugees to come home.

"There is peace," he said yesterday. "No Rwandan should ever be a refugee again. There has been a lot of suffering in this country, and now the RPF [Rwanda Patriotic Front] has decided to work democratically to end Rwanda's pain."

Despite the formation of the new government, the panicked flight continued in western Rwanda.

In Bukavu, the border crossing was packed yesterday with mothers carrying young children, old men who could barely walk and younger people carrying all they had in sacks. A cease-fire agreement announced yesterday by the RPF had no apparent effect on the fleeing masses. Most of the people leaving Rwanda are ethnic Hutus, and some said they feared being killed by the Tutsi-led rebels if they stayed behind.

Unlike the earlier refugees, those now entering Bukavu tend to be more affluent. Many were officials in the old Rwanda regime before the rebels drove the remnants of the government and the army into Zaire. Mr. Nsengiyumva, a Hutu, said he never dreamed of staying behind.

"The RPF would surely kill me," he said. Now in Bukavu, Mr. Nsengiyumva said he feels safe, but he has no food, no home and no job. Like others in the camp, he lives under a plastic sheet provided by the UNHCR.

Mr. Nsengiyumva said his wife and three children were killed in Kigali during the rebels' assault there.

As the exodus grows, some aid workers are at a loss to explain the huge flight. In many regions of Rwanda that are now being emptied, there are no rebel troops, and French peacekeepers have been stationed for weeks to protect civilians.

Lt. Col. Jacques Hogard, in charge of the French operation in a section of Rwanda just across the border from Bukavu, said many of the people may have fled because they feared reprisals from Hutu hard-liners within the old government if they did not leave.

On Saturday and Sunday, he said, Hutu-controlled Radio Rwanda broadcast messages urging Hutus to leave the country and flee to Zaire.

"It was a movement of panic, created by those radio broadcasts," Colonel Hogard said yesterday.

Meanwhile, international donors have been slow to respond, aid workers say. "The need here is incredible," said Pascal Villeneuve, UNICEF's coordinator for the Rwanda emergency effort. "We need larger donations, and we need them more rapidly."

A relief worker, who asked that he not be identified, said donors may be cold to the plight of Hutu refugees: "These are the people who started the massacres back in April. Maybe donors don't feel sorry for them."

Others speculate that donors may simply be tired of the recent string of humanitarian disasters, including those in Bosnia and Somalia.

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