Rwandan Rebels Seek to Reassure Hutu Majority as Thousands Flee

ONE of the first tasks confronting the government that Rwanda's mostly Tutsi rebels are setting up in the capital, Kigali, is encouraging refugees of the Hutu majority to come home again.

The man chosen to lead the new government, Hutu moderate Faustin Twagiramungu, upon arriving yesterday in Kigali, told reporters his first priority was refugees. ``The people fleeing the region need to be reassured,'' he said. He began the process of planning the government yesterday, and the rebels hope it will be completed by Saturday.

Mr. Twagiramungu's recent selection as prime minister is not an arbitrary one. Under peace accords signed last August in Arusha, Tanzania, he was accepted as interim prime minister by both the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the Hutu-dominated government.

In an interview with the Monitor in Kigali last year, he emphasized a commitment to ``reconciliation'' among Hutus and Tutsis and a desire ``to get people together.''

Up to 1 million Rwandans, mostly Hutus, are currently fleeing to and across the border into Zaire, just ahead of rebel military advances this week in northwestern Zaire. Another 250,000 Hutus fled to Tanzania in late April.

If the estimates of the exodus into Zaire prove accurate, it will amount to one of the largest sudden movements of people ever. The few relief officials in the border town of Goma, Zaire, where the refugees are crossing, are ``overwhelmed,'' says Panos Moumtzis, a regional spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Nairobi.

Ingrained ethnic fears

The mostly Tutsi RPF has promised to initiate a cease-fire as soon as their new government is set up and when the killers of Tutsis have been apprehended. The latter condition would make a cease-fire unlikely soon.

The fleeing Hutus fear death at the hands of Tutsi rebels. Such fear is also expressed here in the French-protected zone in southwestern Rwanda, where up to 400,000 Hutus have fled rebel advances in this area.

``There are Hutus who killed Tutsis, and the Tutsis want revenge,'' says Jean Damisen Uzabakiliho, a Hutu manager of the local water-treatment plant here.

Convincing the displaced and refugees to return home may take a long time, given ingrained suspicions on each side. A UN report accuses the mostly Hutu government of having pre-planned genocide against the Tutsis.

A minimal condition for the return of Hutus to their home is establishment of a coalition government between Hutus and Tutsis, Mr. Uzabakiliho says. ``We will not accept that the Tutsi minority rules,'' he adds. Hutus make up about 85 percent of the population, according to earlier government censuses.

The new Tutsi-dominated government, which as of yesterday had only one Hutu member, Twagiramungu, needs the Hutu refugees. Without them, normal farming and commercial activity cannot resume, and the government runs a higher risk of being attacked.

The RPF says it will abide by the accords signed last August. But Mr. Twagiramungu reportedly has said the accords need to be reviewed in light of the fighting since they were signed.

In the interview last year - a few weeks after being named interim prime minister - he showed an awareness of the sensitivity of the refugee issue, calling it the cause of the civil war. He also spoke of his hopes for a ``clean election'' at the end of the interim period of government. Twagiramungu said the divisions in Rwanda are not simply between Hutus and Tutsis, but between northern and southern Hutus and between economic classes. ``If you are poor, you are automatically Hutu,'' he said. Historically, the difference between Hutus and Tutsis was also based somewhat on economic wealth. These divisions of class lured him into politics, he said.

Zaire overwhelmed

Regarding the current refugee crisis in Rwanda, an official with Oxfam, a British charity, told the British Broadcasting Corporation yesterday that refugees were crossing the border near Goma, Zaire, at the rate of more than 10,000 an hour. Planes with food can land at an airport in Goma. The sudden human flood has caught relief officials off guard.

Patrick Fuller, a spokesman in Nairobi for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says ``the exodus into Zaire could make the camp [in Tanzania] look like a picnic.'' The camp in Tanzania has some 250,000 Rwandans, almost all Hutus, who fled the country in late April.

But a disaster was avoided in Tanzania because aid agencies were already operating there, caring for refugees from neighboring Burundi, which also has had ethnic massacres during the past year. In the Goma area, few agencies are operating, Mr. Fuller says.

He blames the UN and most private relief agencies with ``making a lot of noise'' but doing little to prepare for the inundation of refugees into Zaire. ``The alarm bells have been ringing for a long time,'' he says.

The ICRC has only enough food in Goma to feed 150,000 people for a month, he says.

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