Zaire, Rwanda to repatriate more than 1 million refugees

News and Press Release
Originally published
KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- Zaire and Rwanda agreed Thursday to repatriate more than 1 million Rwandan refugees living in Zairian camps since mid-1994.
"The two heads of government have decided to make operational the organized, massive and unconditional repatriation of all Rwandan refugees," said a communique in French signed by Zairian Prime Minister Leon Kendo wa Dongo and his Rwandan counterpart, Pierre-Celestin Rwigema.

"It is the first time heads of government have met to renew conditions to welcome home refugees. We are at the stage where Zaire is going to proceed with the closure of the camps. It is important that this is carried out in peace," the communique said.

There was no mention of what would happen to anyone who refused to go home, or how and when the operation would be carried out.

Kendo wa Dongo did say he hoped the repatriation, to be accomplished in the near future, would be carried out in cooperation with the United Nations refugee agency.

Paul Stromberg, spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees in Rwanda, said the agency did not participate in the meeting Thursday between Zairian and Rwandan officials.

He said 400 refugees had left camps in Zaire for Rwanda in the first half of August, but that overall, the number of returnees had been very low.

About 1.3 million Rwandan Hutu refugees live in more than 30 camps in eastern Zaire. They have resisted attempts to get them to return home, either out of fear of retaliation for a Hutu government-sponsored massacre of more than half a million people -- mostly minority Tutsis -- in Rwanda in 1994, or because they were threatened.

Former members of the Rwandan Hutu army operate out of the camps, attacking Rwanda's new Tutsi-led army.

The announcement of the repatriation came on the second day of a high-level Zairian visit to Rwanda and as the U.N. High Commission for Refugees reported that Magara, the largest camp for Rwandan Hutu refugees in neighboring Burundi, was all but empty.

Stromberg, who spoke from Ngozi in Burundi, said there were only 220 refugees left in Magara. The remaining 6,000 left in 100 trucks for Rwanda Thursday.

"This is the end to a successful repatriation," he said.

In Rukuramigabo, the last camp, he said the first 400 of 25,000 refugees left for Rwanda Thursday. He said there were signs others would follow suit.

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