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Hutu Supporters Flee Rwandan Zon for Zaire

By Jonathan C. Randal
The Washington Post


Several hundred thousand supporters of the ousted Hutu government of Rwanda have fled the French-protected zone in southwestern Rwanda and crossed into Zaire at this southern border post to begin an uncertain life as exiles.

Unlike the hundreds of thousands of exhausted and bedraggled refugees who have trudged into Zaire at Goma, at the northern end of Lake Kivu, many of those fleeing Rwanda's French zone in the last three days seem well-heeled and articulate. Many traveled in cars, trucks and buses, and almost all wore shoes.

Since the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front declared victory over the Hutu-led government Monday, these refugees have become players in the end game of Rwanda's three-month-old civil war.

The stakes are high for the triumphant rebel front, which Tuesday swore in a "national unity" government in Kigali, the capital, after winning a war that has claimed an estimated 500,000 lives. Most of the victims have been members of the 14 percent Tutsi minority, slaughtered by government-backed Hutu militias.

Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, the rebel leader who Tuesday became Rwanda's vice president and defense minister, has sought to reassure the majority Hutus that they have no reason to flee. Two moderate ethnic Hutus, Faustin Twagiramungu and Pasteur Bizimungu, were sworn in as prime minister and president. But the leaders of the ousted hard-line Hutu government have mounted what appears to be an organized campaign, mostly through radio broadcasts, predicting Tutsi retribution, to persuade their supporters to follow them into Zaire.

The stakes also are high for France, whose much-trumpeted humanitarian security zone in southwestern Rwanda could become pointless if the estimated 1.3 million Hutus, who withdrew into the area in the face of advancing Tutsi rebels, cross en masse into Zaire. Its humanitarian intentions impugned first by the rebels and now by the defeated Hutus, the French army dropped pamphlets from helicopters Tuesday exhorting people now in the zone to stay put and to trust in France's promise to guarantee their safety.

The French mission has come under bitter criticism from the fleeing Hutus, many saying they are disappointed that Paris failed to prevent their defeat.

Only four weeks ago, at the start of the French intervention, Leonard, a Rwandan customs agent, had festooned this border crossing point with banners celebrating French-Rwandan friendship and had beamed with goodwill toward "France, our savior." But Tuesday, the normally mild-mannered civil servant surveyed the nearby frontier with Zaire, eyed a French Foreign Legionnaire and spat out his hatred for what he called "double-talking France" and "all white men who have betrayed us." Outside his customs office, automatic weapons were stacked haphazardly as a humiliating reminder that Rwandan troops must abandon their arms if they choose exile in Zaire.

"We are 7 million now," Leonard said. "We Hutus will come back 17-million strong when our children avenge our fate and reoccupy this country we have emptied rather than accept (rebel) rule."

Col. Venant Musonera, the Rwandan army commander here, said his job was to arrange an orderly transfer of Rwandan troops to Zaire because "if the RPF comes here, the military will be their first victims." Already, more than half the Rwandan troops in the French zone, between 5,000 and 6,000 men, have crossed into Zaire, according to French sources.

Since the flood of Hutus began arriving here Sunday, Lt. Col. Jacques Hogard, a legionnaire who commands the French contingent here, has brought more troops into this border town to discourage an outburst of looting, theft and murder.

That outburst of violence coincided with the departure from the humanitarian security zone - at French insistence - of the president of the interim regime in Kigali that took power after President Juvenal Habyrimana died in a plane crash April 6. Before leaving here with his ministers, interim president Theodore Sindikukwabo had launched a radio appeal to all Hutus inside the French zone to follow him to Zaire.

Hogard said he believed that the peak of the exodus was over, now that 300,000 Hutus had passed through Cyangugu into Zaire. But U.N. officials estimated that as many as 600,000 Hutus were still headed for this town from Kibuye at the northernmost point of the French zone, and that a similar number was on the march from Gikonkoro, at its easternmost point.