Swift aid needed in Zaire Fleeing refugees: Only international force can save desperate Hutus from Rwanda.

November 08, 1996

IN KINSHASA, the capital, what passes for the government of Zaire told international agencies to stop distributing aid to Rwandan Hutu refugees in Zaire, but rather to feed them in Rwanda and Burundi.

In Kenya, eight African heads of government called for a U.N. military force to open corridors in Zaire for humanitarian aid to the refugees, and then for their safe return to Rwanda.

In Marseille, French and Spanish heads of government called for 5,000 soldiers to secure humanitarian corridors. Each would send 1,000 troops, to be gradually replaced by Africans.

Some hundred miles east on the French Riviera, Canada's ambassador to Washington, Raymond Chretien, acting as U.N. envoy, talked to Zaire's dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, recuperating at his villa after long medical treatment in Switzerland. Mr. Chretien said that Mr. Mobutu favored an international force to feed refugees and escort them safely home.

In eastern Zaire, more than a million Hutu refugees from Rwanda, were fleeing westward. No one was offering them food, water, medicine, shelter or protection. First the aid workers had abandoned the camps, under fire from Tutsi rebels and Rwandan military units, and then the refugees did.

In Tanzania, with its own Hutu refugees from Rwanda, more were showing up, along with Zairians fleeing the fighting and anarchy. In Zaire, demonstrations were erupting against the weakness of the government, against predations from Tutsi-governed Rwanda, and against ethnic Tutsis and Hutus in the country.

Every government says it favors repatriating Hutus to Rwanda with guarantees of safety from reprisal by Tutsi rulers whose own people were victims of Hutu genocide just two years ago. But many Hutus fear to go.

There is enough convergence from African and European summits for the U.N. to go forward and the U.S to cooperate with transport.

Of course, France is suspect, having aided the former Hutu genocidal regime. Every African country is suspected of sympathy toward either Rwanda or Zaire, either Tutsis or Hutus. But when people are dying of starvation, disease, thirst, exposure, fright and murder, there is no time for a motivation purity test.

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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