ZAIREAN paratroopers fired into the air early Sunday and stopped hordes of Rwandan refugees from storming across a bridge leading into Zaire, witnesses said.
Shortly after French Legionnaires pulled out of the closed Ruzizi frontier post in line with an Aug. 22 deadline for a French troop withdrawal from Rwanda, scores of angry refugees broke through a line of United Nations Ethiopian soldiers left guarding the rickety bridge.
Half an hour later, there was another surge as hundreds of refugees pushed from behind. The Ethiopians looked on helplessly as the Zairean paratroopers halted the stampede for a second time by firing into the air.
Zaire closed its border between Bukavu and the Rwandan town of Cyangugu on Saturday, fearing a repeat of the catastrophe in Goma, Zaire, last month, when more than 1 million refugees poured in.
In the last two days, more than 45,000 Hutus have crossed into Zaire in response to the French withdrawal of troops from their ``safe zone'' in southwestern Rwanda. Bukavu is crammed with about 100,000 Hutus.
With dysentery sweeping through town, aid agencies are trying to move as many people as possible to a dozen outlying camps that are already at the bursting point.
Relief officials see some room for optimism: New departures from the Rwandan towns of Kibuye and Gikongoro have fallen dramatically.