BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ About 35,000 refugees from ethnic strife in southern Zaire are suffering from disease and hunger while awaiting trains to carry them to their home province, aid workers and diplomats said Tuesday.
Almost seven children a day died over the past two months as measles and dysentery swept through a sprawling camp that has grown around the train station in the southern Zairean city of Likasi, Dr. Dominique Boutriau said.
″They were so weak from malnutrition, a disease like measles could just ravage the camp,″ Boutriau, a physician with the international relief group Doctors Without Borders, said in a telephone interview from Likasi.
The refugees are victims of a power struggle between Zaire’s president, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi that has inflamed ethnic hatreds in Zaire’s southern Shaba Province.
Mobutu supporters have been accused of inciting violence in Shaba against people from the neighboring provinces of east and west Kasai since Tshisekedi, who comes from Kasai, became premier in September.
A leading opponent of Mobutu’s 27-year-old authoritarian rule, Tshisekedi replaced Nguza Karl-I-Bond, a Shaba native. Mobutu gave him the job under pressure from the United States and other Western aid donors to make democratic reforms in Zaire, which was known as the Belgian Congo until it won independence in 1960.
Western diplomats said Shaba Gov. Kyungu wa-Kumwanza, a Nguza ally, stirred unrest by verbal attacks on the Kasai people, who make up one-third of the populations in Shaba’s main towns.
Dozens of people died when violence against Kasaians flared in September and October. Tens of thousands of Kasaians fled.
Doctors Without Borders estimates 20,000 people are packed into the tent city at Likasi’s train station hoping to catch a ride to Kasai. It says a further 15,000 are scattered around the city.
The Likasi-to-Kasai train runs only once every two weeks.
″When the train arrives there is an enormous struggle to get on. It’s war. People will do anything″ to get out of town, Boutriau said. She said some refugees have been killed in the crush.
Up to 2,000 people jam onto the trains, leaving no space for medical staff, and fatalities during the five-day journey are frequent, Boutriau said.
Kasaians moved into Shaba during Belgium’s colonial rule. They were favored by Belgians running Shaba’s copper mines and held key economic posts there when Zaire became independent.
Western diplomats said local officials have taken advantage of the longstanding resentment of Shaba natives for Kasaians’ economic success to spark the violence.
In the 1960s, Shaba, then called Katanga, tried to secede from Zaire. The fighting led to United Nations intervention.