KANYARU-HATU, Rwanda (AP) -- Rwandan refugees fearing reprisal from the new Tutsi government in Burundi began returning home voluntarily Friday. U.N. refugee officials said at least 1,700 had crossed the border, and the number was expected to rise.
The return after two years of exile was prompted by the Tutsi-led Burundi army's expulsion of 15,000 Hutu refugees last week, and by Burundi's closing of two refugee camps in the north.
The Hutus fled into Burundi in 1994, fearing retaliation for the killing of a half-million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.
''I did not come back before because of rumors,'' said Charles Batanga, a Hutu refugee who returned home Friday.
Batanga said those implicated in the 1994 massacres and refugees who found work in camps in Burundi were reluctant to return home. Those two groups held other Hutu refugees back, telling their countrymen, these terrible stories.''
''But now I see there is peace in my country, and I am happy to be back in my homeland,'' Batanga said.
Paul Stromberg, a U.N. refugee agency spokesman in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, said the refugees were coming from Magara camp, 24 miles from the Rwandan border.
The Burundian governor of Ngozi province, where Magara camp is located, addressed the refugees Wednesday and urged them to go home. He said all nonessential services at the camp would be suspended immediately, Stromberg said.
The continuing refugee exodus comes despite assurances from the new leader in Burundi, Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi general who assumed control of the country July 25. He promised that no more refugees would be forced out.
Aid workers said, however, there are persistent rumors that the government will close the camps if the Rwandan refugees do not leave on their own.
More than 650 refugees left Magara camp Thursday for Rwanda. More than 50,000 Rwandans live in Magara and another 13,000 more live in a second camp in neighboring Kirundo province.
More than 10,000 refugees from the Kibezi and Ruvumu camps that closed recently took refuge at the Magara camp. Burundian soldiers have arrived in Magara, increasing tension.
In both Rwanda and Burundi, 14 percent of the population is Tutsi, 85 percent Hutu and 1 percent Twa.
=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press