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U.N. Resumes Repatriation of Refugees, But Few Going Home

August 25, 1995

GOMA, Zaire (AP) _ After convincing Zaire to stop expelling Rwandan refugees at gunpoint, the United Nations on Friday resumed repatriating refugees who volunteer to return to their homeland.

But few took the U.N. up on its offer. Just 220 refugees returned home from Goma, and none returned from eastern Zaire’s two other main refugee centers, Bukavu and Uvira.

Refugees have been unwilling to go home without guarantees they will be safe there. But U.N. officials said they expected the pace to pick up dramatically.

``We are confident that more people will come. We can’t say it is a false start because it is too early,″ said Chris Bowers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman in Goma.

``Thousands came forward at Bukavu, wanting to go back,″ said Peter Kessler, the UNHCR spokesman in Nairobi. ``But we did not have trucks.″

Nearly all the refugees are Hutus, the ethnic group blamed for killing at least 500,000 people _ mostly Tutsis _ in Rwanda last year. They fled when Tutsi-led rebels seized power and fear they will be killed if they return.

The refugees include members of the ousted Hutu-led government, the army and Hutu militias who would almost certainly be arrested in Rwanda.

Previous U.N. efforts to help Rwandan Hutus return home on their own failed. Between January, when the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees began the repatriation effort, and June, just 26,994 Rwandan Hutus returned home.

Zaire forced more than half that many back across its eastern borders with Rwanda and Burundi in just five days this week. It quit forcing them out on Thursday, agreeing to allow the United Nations to restart the voluntary repatriation program for the nearly 1 million Rwandan refugees.

But refugees in the crowded border camps still appeared wary.

``There are people here who are ready to die rather than return home,″ said Jean-Baptiste Sibomana, a former teacher from Rwanda who is among the 33,000 refugees in the Kibumba camp.

One in every 500 Hutus forced out by Zaire in the past week were detained by Rwandan authorities on suspicion of war crimes, Bowers said. He said the low number of arrests could encourage others to return.

There have been reprisal killings in Rwanda, although the new government insists it is working to make the country safe.

In the meantime, rumors abound in the camps.

``There are many people who have come, returned here from Rwanda and brought reports of torture, of tragedy, atrocities and of people being imprisoned without trial or for no reason at all,″ said John D. Nkironuye, a former city administrator from Ruhengeri.

But Savezina Nyirambarushimrna said she went home to learn the truth after hearing that all the Hutus in Rwanda had been murdered.

``I found the people happy, drinking beer and eating. All they did was ask me questions about life in the camp,″ she said. ``I’ve come back to tell the people we can go there.″

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