Africa's Crisis Part 2:A Hutu-Tutsi DEtente
As refugees return to Rwanda, calls for tolerance
KINSHASA AND GOMA, ZAIRE
At first they came in ones and twos, putting one foot carefully in front of the other, balancing bundles on the crowns of their heads.Skip to next paragraph
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Amid the early morning bustle of Goma, Zaire, they were scarcely noticed. Then the scattered groups began coalescing into long lines, and what was happening became clear: These were Rwandan Hutu refugees, and they were finally returning home.
The deluge of refugees may be the long-desired breakthrough in the 2-1/2-year refugee crisis in Central Africa. But while hopes have been lifted, this volatile region is still not safe from the threat of war or further humanitarian tragedy, diplomats say.
Some 300,000 Hutu refugees have crossed into Rwanda from eastern Zaire so far, prompting Rwanda to say that a planned Canadian-led 10,000-man international protection force was no longer needed to stave off a humanitarian catastrophe.
But with 500,000 to 700,000 refugees left behind in need of aid, more than 100,000 Zaireans internally displaced, and a large section of Zairean territory in the hands of Rwandan-backed rebels, only one stage in the crisis appears to be over.
Diplomats say that repatriation of the refugees is necessary to pacify a region stained by Hutu-Tutsi ethnic conflict. But the exodus will not alone resolve tensions in a heavily armed region with a sinister pattern of retribution.
"There are huge political issues. They are so big and massive that it will take years to resolve," says one source close to regional negotiations. "First you have the question of existing borders. Then there is the ethnic question - that minority Tutsi populations are governing Rwanda and Burundi. Add to that the problem that Zaire believes itself at war with those two countries. Then you have an explosive mix of about 10 different armed groups or government armies. And you can not ignore the fact that many in the Rwandan government feel like they were hit with a neutron bomb in the 1994 genocide."
'We've been waiting for this moment'
By midday Friday, the road leading to Goma was all but blocked by a murmuring, tramping mass of humanity. The surprise reports came in from the west: Mugunga Camp was emptying, Rwanda's exiled Hutu militias had vanished, and hundreds of thousands of people were on the move.
By 5 p.m. local time, the Rwandan president, Pasteur Bizimungu, was at the frontier, perched on a pile of potato sacks to witness "a great day in the history of Rwanda."
"I am very happy - we've been waiting for this moment for more than two years," he told the Monitor. "We can't say the civil war is over, because I understand that the [Hutu] militias and the former government army are still running in the bush. But without the population as a hostage, it will be easy to deal with that problem."
Six years ago, President Bizimungu's Rwandan Patriotic Front was a small group of mainly Tutsi refugees living in Uganda, barred from returning home by Rwanda's Hutu majority government. Two years ago they overran their homeland in a matter of weeks, ending the genocidal killing of 1 million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.