Rwandan refugees stream home from Tanzania
President promises them safety
December 15, 1996
Web posted at: 11:40 a.m. EST (1630 GMT)
RUSUMO, Rwanda (CNN) -- Thousands of Rwandan refugees Sunday
crossed a narrow border bridge leading back to their
homeland, where they were repatriated after years of exile in Tanzania.
Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu welcomed the refugees
"I came to reassure them that nothing bad will happen to
them," Bizimungu said at the border near the Rusumo Falls.
Tanzania has been 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 retribution upon return
to Rwanda for the slaughter of at least 500,000
Tutsis in 1994 at the hands of Hutu militias.
Aid workers at the border estimated about 1,200 were crossing
per hour. The flow of people began Saturday with small groups
on foot or bicycles, and several thousand were believed to
have crossed overnight.
The line of refugees stretched far into the horizon, out of
eyesight and through the dense forests, as refugees waited
for their chance to pass back into Rwanda.
Those who crossed seemed happy to be home.
"I'm very glad to be in Rwanda. This is my home," said Namani
Munyantore, 26, who was accompanied by his wife and two
children on the eight-hour trek.
He said he and his family walked 18 miles (29 km) from Lumasi
camp, the first to be emptied Saturday by Tanzanian police.
No force was used in the operation, he said.
Tanzania wants all Rwandan Hutus remaining in the country out
by December 31.
Aid worker: Tanzania helps in 'humane manner'
Before the column of refugees reached the border, witnesses
said hundreds of thousands of refugees were streaming toward
Rusumo Falls from as far away as 60 miles (100 km). The
movements began Saturday, apparently after a meeting between
the refugee camp leaders and Tanzanian officials.
Aid agencies set up water points, health posts and biscuit
distribution sites along the route.
On Friday, Hutu extremists led the refugees deeper into
Tanzania to prevent their return home, telling them Rwanda's
new Tutsi-led government would kill them. But Tanzanian
troops headed the movement off and ordered refugees to walk
back toward four giant refugee camps -- Benaco, Lukole,
Mushuhura, and Lumasi.
Some Tanzanian army troops walked with the refugees, but
there were no reports of violence.
"There were some military on the road, however they were in
no way hurting the refugees," said Linda Stops of the
International Federation of the Red Cross. "They just seemed
to be more or less standing guard."
Judith Melby of the U.N. refugee agency said it appeared that
all of the camps were emptying.
Most of those returning to Rwanda have homes within 18 miles
(30 km) of the border so they will not have much further to
walk once they reach their homeland, according to Michele
Quintaglie of U.N. World Food Program.
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