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Bulk of Rwandan Refugees Who Fled Camps Are Still Near Goma

November 12, 1996

GOMA, Zaire (AP) _ Hundreds of thousands of refugees missing since war forced them out of Goma were spotted Tuesday just a few miles from the camp they left behind _ and catastrophically far from the emergency workers trying to help them.

A flight chartered by Associated Press Television located the refugees, whose makeshift camp of white and blue sheeting stretched like ribbons along both sides of a highway.

Armed Hutu militiamen _ and perhaps some Zairian soldiers _ stand between them and the food and medicine international aid agencies are trying desperately to deliver.

For a week, the town of Goma has been under the control of Zairian rebels. But the Hutu militiamen mixed among the refugees at the new camp are able to hit the town with mortar fire.

The new camp extends northwest six miles from the Mugunga camp along Highway R529 and appears to hold about 300,000 people in makeshift shelters. Aid workers unable to reach them fear mass starvation.

In the last week of October, Rwandan Hutu refugees fleeing camps north of Goma swelled Mugunga camp to some 400,000 people, about the population of Minneapolis.

The U.N. Security Council is debating this week whether to authorize a multinational force to secure the area for aid delivery.

Canada volunteered to head a contingent of as many as 10,000 troops to restore calm and aid refugees in eastern Zaire, and U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said Tuesday in Rome that he accepted the offer.

``More than 1 million lives are at stake,″ Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday. ``I was frustrated by the excuses instead of seeing actions, frustrated by the lack of resolve by the international community.″

Boutros-Ghali spokesman Sylvana Foa said there was no time frame for such a contingent.

The Paris daily Le Monde reported in its Wednesday edition that the United States basically had agreed to the plan and could send up to 1,000 troops who would take control of the airports in Goma and Bukavu, two towns at the north and south ends of Lake Kivu.

State Department spokesman Glyn Davies, speaking in Washington, declined to comment on the report.

A Clinton administration official, however, said the U.S. military will participate in an international effort to help the refugees, although the precise nature of the American role remains undecided.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, raised the possibility that ground troops would be sent, but said an announcement is probably a few days off.

France and Spain each reportedly put as many as 1,000 special troops on alert for rapid movement into the region. About 160 French troops arrived in Brazzaville, capital of the Congo, across a river from the Zairian capital, Kinshasa.

When fighting first flared in the area around Uvira on Lake Tanganyika early last month, 1.1 million Rwandan Hutu refugees living in about 40 camps along Zaire’s eastern border began to flee.

Perhaps half of the 700,000 refugees registered in the five Goma-area camps in September may be at the new camp west of Mugunga. The others have moved into neighboring Uganda, are wandering in northeastern Zaire or have gone as far west as Kisangani, 325 miles away. Some _ maybe several thousand _ have decided to end their exile and return home to Rwanda.

The Rwandan Hutus fled to eastern Zaire in mid-1994 after the Hutu government orchestrated the slaughter of at least half a million people, most of them minority Tutsis. Rwandan Hutus feared retaliation when the government changed to Tutsi hands.

From the air, Mugunga camp appeared to have been completely looted and burned. Men holding assault rifles could be seen on the green hilltops.

Refugees who managed to flee the area have said that the armed Hutu militants will not allow the refugees to leave the camp.

From the plane, it was possible to see people in the camp cooking meals and collecting water from Lake Kivu and a canal that flows next to the camp. The refugees apparently had found something to eat.

Further west of the new camp, there were four more settlements of about 500 people each.

A missionary order in Spain, meanwhile, confirmed Tuesday that four of its members aiding refugees in the Bukavu area of Zaire had been slain. Adolfo Varas Garcia of the Marist mission in Madrid said the four men were ``violently killed″ by Hutu militias on Oct. 31.

The missionaries’ bodies were found in a well at their compound in Bukavu.

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