DR Congo

Aid Workers Evacuated As Violence Increases Around Refugee Camps

News and Press Release
Originally published
By CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press Writer
KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) _ A least a dozen aid workers were evacuated from Goma, Zaire, on Tuesday because of increasing violence around refugee camps.

The city's airport, closed for three days, re-opened Tuesday afternoon, U.N. security sources said. Angry Zairian soldiers had blocked the airport, demanding that troops wounded last week by unidentified gunmen be transferred by plane to the country's capital, Kinshasa.

Aid workers from the International Federations of the Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Dutch branch of Doctors Without Borders were transported across the border into Rwanda along with the international staff from the European Union.

The head of the U.N. operation in Goma recommended that all non-essential U.N. staff leave the area as looting and gunfire continued in the northeastern provincial capital, said the U.N. source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The latest round of violence follows an ambush on a Zairian military convoy Friday, when unknown gunmen killed seven soldiers and left several more wounded. The attack took place on the main road going north from Goma between the Kibumba and Kahindo camps that together house more than half a million Hutu refugees.

The soldiers, who were sent in from Kinshasa to aid troops stationed in the northeast, began terrorizing Goma on Saturday after they returned to town. They buried their dead on Sunday, then barricaded the road to the camps and closed down the airport, demanding a plane to carry the wounded to Kinshasa.

The U.N. refugee agency has arranged for water and other essential services to be provided to the camps, spokesman Paul Stromberg said.

He said food stocks were sufficient for a week.

The refugees fled Rwanda after more than 500,000 people died in a program to get rid of minority Tutsis. Most of the refugees are from the majority Hutu people who fear reprisals for the killings.

Since January, at least 20 Zairian soldiers have died in inter-ethnic violence in North Kivu province in the northeastern corner of the country.

Goma is the largest town in North Kivu, which includes the Masisi and Rutshuru regions. Ethnic violence between at least four groups has increased dramatically in recent months, prompting Zairian authorities to send additional troops to the province.

So far, the soldiers have been unable to stop what U.S. officials have called ethnic cleansing in the Masisi and Rutshuru regions. Friday's attack was the second on Zairian soldiers in the past month.

Hutu militants from the camps have joined with Zairian Hutus in the Masisi and Rutshuru regions to force at least 100,000 people from their homes, many of them ethnic Tutsis.

The Hutus, originally from Rwanda, have been living in the region for generations; the Tutsis arrived in the late 1950s.

More than 12,000 Tutsis, who have lived all their lives in Zaire, have fled to Rwanda.