Frustrated by the United Nations’ inability to get more than 1.2 million Rwandan refugees to go home, Zaire said Tuesday that they will be forced to leave eastern Zaire if they do not go voluntarily by the end of the year.
The policy was announced by Prime Minister Leon Kengo wa Dondo after he met for several hours with Sadako Ogata, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.
But the U.N. refugee agency dismissed the deadline, saying it cannot commit itself to a rigid time frame.
Meanwhile, in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, four Cabinet ministers were dismissed by President Pasteur Bizimungu on Tuesday, the day after the firing of the prime minister. The shake-up threatens to further destabilize a country grappling with ethnic hatred and the refugee crisis.
Zairian soldiers began expelling refugees at gunpoint Aug. 19, causing an estimated 170,000 refugees to flee into hills and forests around the camps, without food or water.
Zaire stopped its expulsions late last week after the U.N. refugee agency agreed to resume its voluntary repatriation program. Since then, however, only about 400 have agreed to return home.