RWANDA'S Tutsi rebels are coming under fire for alleged atrocities and heavy-handed tactics against the Hutu majority.
The accusations are sparking fears among hundreds of thousands of Hutus still in this French ``safety zone'' in southwestern Rwanda. Many are likely to flee to Zaire when the French troops begin pulling out next week.
The United Nations World Food Programme has only just now caught up with meeting the food needs of the exodus to Goma, Zaire. And the main United Nations food-supply route to southwestern Rwanda is threatened by unrest in Burundi.
The accusations against the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels, who now control the country, may explain why the return flow of refugees from Goma, which reached a peak of 10,000 a day last week, has slowed to a few hundred a day. The charges include killing civilians in isolated incidents, imprisoning some Hutus on the basis of personal grudges rather than hard evidence of their having participated in genocide, occupying civilians' homes, and looting.
Some Hutus who left the French zone returned ``saying the RPF is killing people,'' says Fr. Thaddee Rusingizandekwe, a displaced Catholic priest here.
The RPF has killed civilians near the safety zone, French Marine Lt. Col. Eric Stabenrath, who heads the French forces here, said in a Monitor interview on Aug. 8. ``I think it's individual acts'' and not RPF policy.
He bases his statements on accounts from Hutus who say they survived attacks. Such accounts may be suspect, given deep animosity among many Hutus toward Tutsi rebels, and anti-Tutsi propaganda broadcast for months by a clandestine radio station. And some RPF spokesmen discount anything the French say as biased, since the French helped arm and train the defeated government Army.
But some accounts are ``credible,'' including ones by farmers who give precise details, Colonel Stabenrath insists. Hutu militia still active in the area may be committing the killings and not the RPF, he adds.
Last week, eight civilian Hutus were tortured and killed near here, possibly by the RPF, says Stabenrath. They were ``arrested and put in a room without drink or food.... Women threw stones at them.'' Later they were ``put on their knees and their heads were crushed,'' he says.
The account comes from a Hutu survivor who fell among the bodies and pretended to be dead, he adds. The survivor ``cannot say if it was soldiers or not.'' The killers ``could be Hutus'' who target Tutsis and Hutu moderates opposing the deposed government.
The killing of civilians in RPF-controlled areas ``happens very often,'' Stabenrath says. Journalists also have reported killings and torture in this area in which survivors blame the RPF.
Stabenrath says RPF officials recently admitted to him that they are having problems controlling some of their soldiers, many of whom lost family members in the genocide carried out by the Hutu Army, militia, and individuals. ``Ninety percent of the Tutsi [in this region] have been killed,'' he estimates, citing an array of figures to support his contention. The officials also admit that in the capital, Kigali, RPF soldiers have looted and are occupying many homes.
RPF Vice President Patrick Mazimhaka told the Monitor that some RPF soldiers have been arrested for misdeeds, and he welcomes reports of such incidents to the new government.
THE RPF has been screening Hutus leaving this area or returning, says a senior relief official here. Many suspected killers have been imprisoned, including one-third of the area's local staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the official says, asking not to be named. ``It's a denunciation based on people saying `I don't like you' '' rather than on hard evidence of killings by Hutus, he adds.
The French are being replaced by UN troops from Ghana, Ethiopia, and Chad. But many residents have little faith in the ability of the new troops to keep the RPF at bay. ``When they [the French] leave, the people will leave,'' says Father Rusingizandekwe. Displaced Hutus here ``have no confidence'' in the UN troops, he adds.
But others, like Pierre, [last name withheld] say they will stay if UN troops protect the area. And UN Ghanaian soldier Perry Awadey says that the UN troops already here should reassure the displaced.
But the replacement troops are required by a UN mandate to use less force than the French were given by the UN Security Council.
Some displaced Hutus here say they might not flee if the new RPF leaders quickly establish civilian administrations throughout the country, including police and courts. Others say the RPF soldiers should be told to go to their barracks.
The RPF soldiers should not be the ``authority,'' says Bernadette, a displaced Hutu university student. ``If they get mad, they can do anything.''