BIARO CAMP, Zaire (Reuter) - Thousands more Rwandan Hutu refugees, many with appalling injuries, streamed back to camps south of Kisangani Thursday as U.N. agencies struggled to clear a backlog of refugees waiting to be airlifted home.
Aid workers at Biaro camp, 25 miles south of Kisangani, said they could not keep up with the flood of refugees returning to the camps they fled in terror last week.
They said that at least a dozen people had died in Biaro camp overnight either from illness or from injuries.
Rebel leader Laurent Kabila Sunday gave aid agencies 60 days to repatriate all refugees back to Rwanda -- after weeks of delaying a U.N. airlift. It is a task U.N. agencies have called impossible.
There are nearly 100,000 Rwandan refugees south of Kisangani and another 250,000 unaccounted for in Zaire. Their plight has aroused international concern with reports of massacres at Biaro and Kasese refugee camps, starvation and disease.
This week aid agencies have been nearly overwhelmed by the unexpected arrival of rebel-organized trainloads of refugees. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said 1,512 Rwandan refugees were flown out of Kisangani on eight flights by seven planes to Rwanda's capital and the southwest town of Cyangugu, bringing the total repatriated since last Sunday to 1,802.
Many field hospitals and food stocks at Biaro were destroyed when villagers and Zairian rebels attacked the camps last week, prompting up to 100,000 refugees south of Kisangani to flee.
Officials say around 10,000 have since returned to their sites and journalists who drove three miles south of Niaro saw an uninterrupted line of refugees heading back.
Many could barely walk. Emaciated children, hollow-eyed from hunger and disease, lay beside railway tracks to the camp. One man walked on while holding a machete embedded in his skull.
A UNICEF spokesman said Thursday Zairian rebels have handed over 62 Rwandan refugee children and adults following a U.N. demand to know the fate of some 110 people abducted from a pediatric hospital near Bukavu.
Patrick McCormick said the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) was "crosschecking" the identity of the Rwandans against the list of those who were taken away by armed men Saturday at Lwiro, some 20 miles north of Bukavu in rebel-held territory.
Aid agencies said Monday they feared some 50 malnourished Rwandan Hutu refugee children and 60 adults, mostly family members, had been killed after they were seized at Lwiro.
"A total of 62 children and adults were handed over. The children were spending last night at the transit center in Bukavu and we understand that they they will be repatriated to Rwanda."
A rebel-organized train with more than 1,200 refugees pulled into Kisangani Wednesday night and aid workers scrambled to cram them in a transit camp near the city's largest airport.
"We need more coordination," said UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg. "But of course given a choice of late night surprises and no repatriation we can find common ground with the (rebel) alliance."
Asked whether rebels were trying to drown aid agencies in refugees in revenge for being internationally condemned last week for blocking access to them, he said it was hard to say.
"There is a sense that so much attention was paid to the obstacles we encountered that they are now eager to show how many people they can bring up to Kisangani," Stromberg said.
But Rwanda's government Thursday accused the United Nations of delaying the repatriation of the refugees and said it was ready to work directly with the AFDL to bring them back.
The government statement was in direct conflict with U.N., European Union and U.S. expressions of concern this week about the treatment of the Hutu refugees by the Tutsi-dominated rebels and complaints about a lack of cooperation with aid agencies.
The Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in 1994 and are collectively accused by minority Tutsis of genocide in Rwanda the same year.
"Due to the U.N.'s hesitation to execute the repatriation and hesitation to comply with the AFDL request to repatriate the refugees in 60 days, the government would like to seek support of all those genuinely interested in the welfare of the refugees to facilitate the evacution," the statement said.
"The government is prepared to work in collaboration with the AFDL (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire) to undertake the repatriation," it added.
A Rwandan Hutu refugee lobby group said however the repatriation of refugees from Zaire was the last stage in a "Final Solution" to remove any threat to Rwanda's government.
The Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda (RDR) called for an international inquiry into genocide and crimes against humanity against Rwandan Hutu refugees in Zaire.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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