Upon return to camps, refugees recount atrocities

August 05, 1994|By New York Times News Service

KADUHA, Rwanda -- Hutu refugees who have accepted assurances from the new government in Kigali that it is safe to go home have come back to the wretched camps of this harsh region of Rwanda. They claim that Tutsi villagers and soldiers of the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front, the Tutsi-dominated organization that is now the government, are killing Hutus returning to their village.

"I saw so many dead bodies," said Charles Murera, 43, who told how he had escaped from a mud-brick house where he was being detained by Patriotic Front soldiers with 10 other Hutu men.

Mr. Murera rolled up the sleeves of his filthy, torn shirt to show festering scabs on the inside of both elbows. He said the wounds had been caused by ropes when he was tied up.

In separate interviews, other Hutu men and women in this remote refugee camp in the hills of southwestern Rwanda, where the French have established a security zone, gave similar accounts of men being tied up and led away by Patriotic Front soldiers and of men, women and children being killed when they returned to their villages in southeastern Rwanda.

There have been persistent rumors of atrocities by front soldiers but no confirmation until now.

It is impossible to know whether these are isolated incidents by some Rwanda Patriotic Front units out of control or whether they reflect broader activities of the front.

The accounts of Tutsi atrocities will deal a serious blow to efforts of the United Nations and international relief organizations to cope with the refugee crisis created by the civil war here, which ended with victory for the Patriotic Front in mid-July.

This is important because U.N. officials acknowledge that when the French troops pull out of the area -- on Aug. 22 if their presence is not prolonged -- there could be a huge new exodus by the 500,000 or so Rwandans, mostly Hutu, in the security zone.

The French are supposed to be replaced by a U.N. force drawn from African nations, but this force has yet to be assembled. If not persuaded to go back to their homes, the refugees would pour into Zaire, adding to the crisis there.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said that it thinks it is safe for the refugees to go home. But within the refugee agency there has been a debate about how aggressive to be in encouraging the refugees to return. There have been fears of incidents such as those the villagers here recounted yesterday.

"The situation is deteriorating fast," said Jack Soldate, director of operations in southwestern Rwanda for CARE, which was distributing food to refugees at Kaduha. Mr. Soldate said that about 10 days ago it was thought that the displaced would begin trickling back to their villages, that they would send back reports that all was well and that greater numbers would return home. But that has not happened.

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