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Refugees’ Plight Is Price Rwandans Pay for Hatred : Africa: Animosity of Hutus and Tutsis is root not only of exodus but of unwillingness to return.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The night before, the sky had blazed with lightning and the rain had fallen hard enough to bounce off the rocks. A new breed of angry young thugs had gone marauding. Friday morning, it rains again, a mountain rain with a chill to it.

The people rise from the ground to count their losses, if they still have anything left to lose.

So begins another day: The blue 1 1/2-ton trucks start down the narrow, potholed roads on their twice-a-day rounds to gather up the bodies. With a rattle and a roar, army flatbeds strike out in convoy with quivering rubber containers of chlorinated water.

Doctors rise to new columns of the sick, still without the proper antibiotics to treat the rising epidemic of dysentery. Relief workers ponder the same difficult questions: What is the mood in the camps? Will it be safe to deliver food? Should they wait until the people are hungrier and perhaps more docile? Should they risk another riot and try to distribute plastic sheeting? Or wait and hope someone will send in troops to maintain order?

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It is crazy, unfathomable, numbing. This is now what passes for normal for 850,000 Rwandan refugees and for the legion of relief workers who have gathered here in the belief that suffering is not a spectator activity.

All across Africa, other refugees awoke Friday to the 20th Century’s version of the Stone Age. Half the world’s refugees are huddled in misery on this continent. But these refugees in Goma--because of their numbers, because of the slaughter they wrought on their way here, because of their apocalyptic encounters with disease--have become extraordinary in the eyes of the world.

And perhaps there is another reason for the world’s uneasy fascination with Goma. These people, with their lice and dysentery, their bare feet and wet coughs and bent backs and orphaned children and oozing clothes, represent a scary sermon. This is where hatred will get you.

Just up the road--a day’s walk, or three or four--each of these families has a home. Rwanda was a country that did not suffer Africa’s periodic droughts and famine. It was crowded because it was lush. Rwanda fed itself from terraced farms on dramatic green mountains. It exported tea and coffee--and wouldn’t you know it, frost in Brazil has made 1994 a banner year for coffee growers elsewhere.

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To the extent that quality of life can be measured in the beauty of one’s surroundings, Rwandans were even rich. The trees were hung with flowers and shaded roads and paths. The weather was mild, seldom hot. The soil was hard but fertile, and the rains brought happiness, not misery. And who in Rwanda could not lift their eyes to the glorious vistas of African mountains and tropical clouds, misty skies and banana groves?

But hatred was more vital than any of this.

“They have the power now,” says Alexis Karera.

Karera is a Hutu. The “they” who now hold power are the Tutsis.

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In May, Karera had a nice home with a concrete floor, a wife and children, just a two-day walk from Goma. All of it is a memory now.

With the death of Rwanda’s Hutu president in April, Hutus turned on the country’s Tutsi minority, killing hundreds of thousands. But in mere months, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front routed the mostly Hutu government’s army and took “the power.”

So Karera is a refugee now, living here with neighbors, dozens of them, crammed together in a space smaller than half of his old bean field. His wife has died. He is vague about his children’s fate. Perhaps they were abandoned in the hope that an orphanage would offer them a better life.

Along with most of the refugees here, Karera has ignored the calls to go home. Hatred brought on Rwanda’s civil war. The fear of retribution now holds him here, where he is lucky to have an 8-by-10-foot sheet of plastic over his head. And under this damp shelter, sour hatred ferments anew.

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Last weekend, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced for the first time that it had detected a sharp decline in the number of refugees willing to take the risk of returning home.

Meanwhile, relief agencies said that more than 4,000 Tutsis who had settled in this area--as far back as 1959--after fleeing as refugees from earlier ethnic strife in Rwanda have now gone home. Perhaps one of them has moved into Karera’s old farm house and is tending his bean field. Other Tutsis who fled to Tanzania and Burundi are also flocking home from old refugee camps. After all, they now have the power.

“It’s homestead time for the Tutsi. They can go up there and grab 20 acres of bananas. It’s a little land rush,” said Rob Denny, a relief worker with the International Red Cross.

Back in Goma, deaths in the Hutu camps are rising again. After reaching a low of about 500 a day last week, the toll from disease has now risen to 600 a day. Dysentery is the leading killer. Unlike cholera, shigella dysentery cannot be treated with just food and water. Expensive antibiotics are required, and of course there is nowhere near enough of those.

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So the ill are given a place to lie and are kept hydrated with water and minerals. The strong will pull through. But the arrival of the rainy season last week, on top of more than a month of camp life, has weakened almost everyone. And the rains are likely to go on for six months more. Relief officials said they estimate that 40,000 people have died here in just over a month.

In the face of it all, however, hatred thrives.

With no Tutsis on which to focus their anger, the refugee Hutus are turning on each other. “There are troubles every day. In the last few nights, bands of young thugs have emerged and are terrorizing the camps,” said Ray Wilkinson, a U.N. spokesman.

Most of the refugees fled village by village, and each village reassembled here with its same social structure of elders and mayors.

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“What is troubling now,” Wilkinson said, “is that these young thugs could prove a challenge to the only order there was in the camps. It’s open season on these people. And now that we know that they are going to be here for a very long time, what are we going to do about this?”


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