Thousands of refugees on the move as many reported killed in Zaire fighting

 

THE last foreign aid workers in the beleaguered city of Bukavu fled by plane yesterday, as refugees reaching Rwanda reported many had died in the fighting in east Zaire.

In the Zairean village of Bumba in North Kivu province, Reuters cameraman Leon Malherbe saw the bodies of more than 14 men, women and children in addition to limbs sticking out of the earth.

Zairean refugees, who fled over the Rwandan border crossing of Mutura on Sunday, said they had left behind many dead and dying in huts in Bumba just across the border.

The fighting pits Zairean troops against ethnic Tutsi rebels and has put a question mark over the future integrity of Zaire, whose President Mobutu Sese Seko has spent more than two months in Switerzland for cancer treatment.

The conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees in Zaire to move. Some 420,000 are now crowded into eastern Zaire's Mugunga camp, which since the weekend has become the biggest refugee camp in the world, a UN spokesman, Mr Panos Moumtzis, said from the Zaire town of Goma.

As the sounds of battle drew closer to Bukavu yesterday, the last aid workers fled by plane for Kenya, leaving journalists as some of the few foreigners in town.

The last seven aid workers to leave were from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Belgian Red Cross and the World Health Organisation.

Aid workers in East Africa said their departure meant no other foreign aid workers remained in the troubled city.

Soon after they left Zairean soldiers were seen looting the aid complex in Bukavu, carting off computers, telephones and other equipment.

International aid agencies evacuated most of their staff on Saturday from Bukavu, the South Kivu provincial capital, under threat of attack by the advancing Banyamulenge Tutsi rebels.

The Banyamulenge, from a 300,000 strong Tutsi community that migrated from what is now Rwanda to Zaire up to 200 years ago have already taken a string of towns south of Bukavu.

In Kigali, Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu yesterday denied providing military help to the rebels in eastern Zaire but said he morally supported their struggle against "extermination" by Zairean authorities.

Zaire says it has been invaded by Rwandan troops.

France denied rumours circulating in African capitals that it would intervene militarilvy in Zaire.

Refugees arriving from Zaire in Rwanda told harrowing tales of slaughter.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said an estimated 700 Rwandan refugees and 3,300 Zaireans fled across the border to Rwanda on Sunday.

Mr Moumtzis said UNHCR estimated some 500,000 people most of them Rwandan and Burundian refugees had been up rooted by more than a week of fighting.

The line of camps stretches over about 250 km in the extreme east of Zaire facing both Rwanda and Burundi.

A total of 200,090 Rwandan Hutu refugees emptied Kibumba camp over the weekend after an attack in which four refugees were killed, according to aid workers.

For the Hutu refugees, a return to Rwanda which they fled two years ago would be a gamble. Many are afraid of reprisals for the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis in 1994 by Hutus.

Mean while, soldiers of Burundi's Tutsi dominated army massacred dozens of Hutu villagers accused of aiding rebel guerrillas in the south west of the country, military and other sources said yesterday.

An independent source said 112 villagers men, women and children returning from the main market in the village of Matana were arrested by soldiers on October 13th. They were executed several days later.

It added that on October 11th, more than 20 Tutsis were killed in a neighbouring village by Hutu guerrillas.

Col Nibizi also reported yesterday that 25 people, including 12 civilians, were killed on Saturday in clashes between the army and Hutu guerrillas.