U.N. Confirms Hutu Killing in Refugee Camps
Defeated and bitter Rwandan army soldiers have begun killing some of their own people to stop them from returning home. And if that were not misery enough for the 900,000 refugees here, an outbreak of yet another killer disease has begun--a mysterious fever that is suspected to be typhus.
U.N. relief officials said Tuesday they have confirmed that a refugee was beaten to death at a nearby camp after urging his countrymen to return home to Rwanda. The killers were reported to be young men wearing the uniform of the Hutu-majority Rwandan army, which lost control of the country last month and is striving to maintain iron-handed rule over the Hutu refugees.
“A very nasty incident . . . the first confirmed murder that we can link to this campaign of intimidation,” Ray Wilkinson, spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said of the killing.
The body of another refugee, who appeared to have been stoned to death, was found Monday; the same motive is suspected.
This new violence against the timid refugee population is certain to complicate efforts by relief agencies and the United Nations to coax Rwandans out of their disease-infested camps and back to their own land.
In the incredibly bloody politics of Rwanda, Hutus are the largest ethnic group. Until their flight, they made up 80% of the 8 million people in Rwanda. When they lost their short but brutal civil war last month to an army controlled by Tutsis, fleeing Hutu soldiers and independent Hutu militias ordered all Hutu citizens to evacuate the country.
Up to 4 million people, mostly Hutu, are now displaced at camps in Zaire, Tanzania, Burundi and in the southwest corner of Rwanda, where French troops are temporarily staffing a protective zone, largely for Hutus.
The new Tutsi-dominated government of the Rwandan Patriotic Front has urged the refugees to come home and has pledged to guarantee their safety. For weeks now, however, Hutu henchmen of the defeated government have told the refugees to stay put, warning that the Tutsis will kill them.
But at least in this sector of Zaire, the 100,000 or so refugees who went home are starting to send back word that they have not been harmed. The Hutu henchmen have apparently taken the next step and begun to demonstrate that refugees risk being killed for leaving the camps.
U.N. officials say there is no evidence that the Rwandan Tutsis are harming returning Hutus but have stopped short of maing any firm promise of refugee safety.
The tug of war over the refugees represents a continuing tragedy in a long struggle over the political future of Rwanda.
An untold number of the Hutu soldiers and militiamen who maintain discipline in these refugee camps will never be able to return to Rwanda. That’s because when they controlled the country, they led the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 Tutsis.
So here they sit in Zaire--many of the leaders are lodged in hotels and houses while their people suffer in squalor.
Keeping the Hutus in camps and under control keeps the humanitarian crisis alive, and that holds the attention of the rest of the world, Hutu leaders say. They reason that perhaps the powerful nations of the West will finally sicken of the death and suffering and force the Tutsis to negotiate concessions.
As for disease in the camps, health officials said they have confirmed 30 cases of the mysterious new fever; 19 victims have died. The symptoms include an extremely high fever and red eyes.
A laboratory analysis of the infection is now under way, but results are not expected for five days. Worried health officials suspect typhus. The disease is spread by lice and, they say, many of the refugees have lice.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Burundi, strikes and clashes shut down the capital, Bujumbura, for a second day Tuesday and authorities stepped up security as diplomats feared the country would follow Rwanda down the path to conflict.
At least 15 people have been killed in two days of clashes involving Tutsis protesting the arrest of their leader, the Reuters news agency reported. It quoted aid officials as warning that their operations to assist refugees in southwest Rwanda and eastern Zaire may be affected unless the security situation improved.
Trouble was sparked by the arrest of opposition politician Mathias Hitimana, leader of the Tutsi-led Party for the Reconciliation of the People.