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Some refugees return to Rwanda;
others flee deeper into Tanzania

December 14, 1996
Web posted at: 11:20 a.m. EST (1620 GMT)


WESTERN TANZANIA (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of refugees began crossing into Rwanda Saturday from camps inside Tanzania. The Rwandans initially tried to flee deeper into Tanzania to avoid returning to their homes in Rwanda, but were stopped by Tanzanian soldiers.

But other Rwandan refugees left at least two other camps in western Tanzania and fled farther from the Rwandan border, aid workers said Saturday.

Officials at the U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP) said that a column of people some 12 miles (20 kilometers) long was streaming away from the Kitali and Keza camps, moving deeper into Tanzania.

"There is a large group of about 100,000 moving east into Tanzania at a rate of 1,000 per hour," said WFP's Julie Johnstone. "About 140 kilometers north of Benaco Camp, there is another group of about 130,000 refugees heading towards the Uganda border."


Kitali and Keza are about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Benaco camp, the largest refugee camp in northeastern Tanzania. Tens of thousands of refugees forced their way back into Benaco Friday after Tanzanian soldiers blocked their attempts to flee into the bush and escape a Tanzanian order to return to Rwanda by the end of the month.

Tanzania is home in exile to over half a million ethnic Hutus, most of whom fled Rwanda after Tutsis deposed the Hutu regime two years ago. The Hutus fear retaliation, should they return to Rwanda, for the slaughter of at least 500,000 Tutsis in 1994 at the hands of Hutu militias.

As in Zaire, where refugees fled a Tutsi-led revolt last month and eventually began to return to Rwanda, Hutu hard-liners control the camps and have perpetuated the fears of retaliation.

"We can't go to Rwanda. That would be a catastrophe," said a refugee in Tanzania who said his name was Jean. "They talk always of genocide in Rwanda. The Tutsis will kill us."

Aid agencies ordered to stay away


The Tanzanian military declared the refugee situation a "military operation" Saturday and allowed only the Red Cross and Oxfam out of their compounds. Both were allowed to set up way stations between the refugee camps and the Rwanda border.

The troops initially blocked the entrance to the Benaco camp Friday and allegedly beat refugees who tried to return. The soldiers denied using force.

"We just want to help these poor people go home," said Gen. Msuya, the military commander in charge of the operation. "We're not shooting anyone."

Anne Wilhelm Bijleveld, a representative of the U.N. refugee agency, said agency believes "the momentum is now in the direction of Rwanda."

The refugees began a mass movement toward Rwanda Saturday, apparently after a meeting between the refugee camp leaders and Tanzanian officials.

Some 10,000 Tanzanian troops were deployed in the region, many sent into the forests to round up refugees who fled there beginning Thursday.

The refugees fleeing Kitali and Keza have encountered little military presence, aid workers said.

"The refugees have come across a few Tanzanian roadblocks," said Michele Quintaglie of the WFP. "The military tried to persuade them to go back, but finally allowed them to continue."

Correspondent Catherine Bond and Reuters contributed to this report.  

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