BUTARE, Rwanda (AP) -- Thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees came home aboard U.N. trucks Monday from a camp in Burundi where soldiers beat three refugees to death over the weekend.
The convoy of more than 60 trucks slogging through thick, red mud carried refugees back to the central African nation they fled two years ago after Rwanda's Hutu-led government massacred a half-million people, most of them Tutsis.
The refugees had been reluctant to return home for fear of retaliation by Rwanda's new Tutsi-led government.
Refugees lined up at the Masanga camp in Burundi as early as 7 a.m., and by late afternoon nearly 8,000 people had crossed from Burundi into Rwanda in U.N. vehicles. They were being registered before being returned to their homes, said Paul Stromberg, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.
''This is definitely voluntary departure,'' Stromberg said. ''We expect the movement to continue tomorrow.''
Over the weekend, Burundian soldiers in the camp fought with refugees who pelted them with stones. The soldiers beat three refugees to death with clubs and shot and wounded three others.
Burundi's Tutsi-dominated army claims Burundian Hutu rebels find support among the Hutu refugees.
''Soldiers in the camp were shooting in the air,'' said one refugee, who would only identify himself as Faustin, traveling with his wife and six children. ''We didn't have a choice, but we are coming voluntarily.''
About 35,000 Rwandan refugees remain in camps in northern Burundi. More than 39,000 refugees have already returned -- voluntarily or by force -- to Rwanda.
=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press