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As many as 200,000 Rwandan refugees leave Tanzanian camps

December 12, 1996

BENACO CAMP, Tanzania (AP) _ Up to 200,000 Rwandan refugees ordered to leave Tanzania by Dec. 31 abandoned their camps today, but it was not clear whether they were going home or into hiding.

``There is a mass movement, but the situation is confused,″ said Michele Quintaglie, spokeswoman for World Food Program in Nairobi, Kenya. ``We don’t know where they’re headed.″

Refugees from four of seven camps in the Ngara area, southwest of the Rwandan border, were packing up and going, Quintaglie said.

``It’s like a domino effect,″ she said. ``Once some people leave, others follow.″

Tanzania has the largest concentration of Rwandan refugees _ an estimated 535,000. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Peter Kessler said about 200,000 of them were on the move.

Lumasi and Kitali camps, with populations of 113,000 and 35,000 respectively, were empty, and tens of thousands of Rwandans were pouring out of Mushuhura and Benaco camps, which have 81,000 and 160,000 people respectively, she said.

Up to 8,000 refugees fled camps in the Karagwe area, 75 miles north of Ngara, following a campaign of intimidation by Hutu extremists in the camps.

U.N. and Tanzanian authorities failed to convince them to return to the camps or home, Quintaglie said.

``The refugees said they definitely are not going back home and they are not going back to camps, even if humantarian services _ food and water _ are cut off,″ she said.

More than 1 million Hutus fled Rwanda in 1994 after extremists in the former Hutu-run government orchestrated the slaughter of at least 500,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis.

At least 640,000 returned from eastern Zaire last month to escape fighting between the Zairian army and rebels, and aid workers had been optimistic that the refugees in Tanzania would follow.

But many Hutus have refused to go back to Rwanda, now controlled by Tutsis, because they fear retribution for the genocide.

In the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, Home Affairs Minister Ali Ameir Mohamed said rumors were circulating among refugees that Rwandan troops were waiting to kill them when they crossed the border.

The Tanzanian government will not yield in its demand that all Rwandan refugees in northwestern Tanzania leave by the end of the month, Mohamed said. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has supported Tanzania’s request, saying it is safe for the refugees to return home.

So far this month, 4,179 refugees have returned, more than in the first 11 months of the year. Most were from camps near Ngara, 30 miles southeast of the Rwandan border.

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