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Anger, Chaos Reign as Hutus Return to Homes and Farms

By Bob Drogin
Los Angeles Times
KABAYA, Rwanda

A little boy ran down a muddy path here just after noon Monday to break the news. "They are coming!" he shouted.

Soon they straggled in, 33 ethnic Hutus who had fled this remote hamlet in western Rwanda for the foul refugee camps of Zaire on July 17, 1994. Now, returning for the first time, they dropped their soiled bundles in the weeds and looked around nervously.

They were finally home. But they were not welcome.

Ethnic Tutsis had taken over the eight Hutu families' homes and farms. And the Tutsis angrily refused to leave. By late afternoon, the drama had turned dangerously tense: A Tutsi accused a returning Hutu of mass murder, and the terrified Hutus predicted they would be killed in the night.

"They will kill the newcomers," whispered John Magese, 53, a Hutu peasant who grabbed a visitor's arm. "They want to keep all the land."

By Monday, an estimated half a million Hutus had hiked home to Tutsi-controlled Rwanda from Zaire in the last four days. But as the mass exodus dwindled to a mere trickle, the uneasy homecoming here suggested that the bitter ethnic and caste divisions that exploded in the Hutu-led genocide of minority Tutsis two years ago are far from over.

The return of so many people so quickly has caused mass confusion inside and outside Rwanda. The United States and its allies plan to meet Thursday in Germany to figure whether they still needed to launch a huge international aid program in the region.

In Rwanda, aid agencies publicly bickered over the failure to provide food or transport to the hungry throngs clogging the roads. More important, the current chaos may be sowing the seeds of future conflict.

Like most Rwandan villages, this cluster of mud-walled houses and huts is hidden among lushly terraced hills and miles from the nearest paved road. And like most other genocides, the toll from the 1994 genocide - in which more than 800,000 people were killed nationwide - was devastating here. In one night of horror, local Hutu militias hacked to death all but five of Kabaya's 200 Tutsis.

But when the Hutus fled in disarray from a Tutsi-led guerrilla army, Tutsi survivors of the massacres and Tutsis who had escaped pogroms in Zaire were allowed to occupy the abandoned houses.

That was the problem Monday.

"This is my house," complained Johan Sebiteke, 70, a stooped, barefoot Hutu, pointing his worn bamboo cane at a mud-walled house in a banana grove. "The Tutsis are inside. And they have locked the door!"

Nearby, a 35 year old woman Anosiata Nyarampabaka, a baby bundled on her back and another at her side, warily walked up to the door of her former home. "There are people living there," she said. "I will take the plastic sheeting (from the refugee camp) and tell them they must sleep outside."

But Odari Ruyugabigwi, 40, a Tutsi trader, stood in the door and refused to budge. "Why should I leave?" he asked, glaring at the Hutus. "I don't want to be a refugee too."

John Vatili, 40, the leader of the returnees, pleaded for a room to store the woman's belongings. But Ruyugabigwi furiously accused him of joining in the genocide. "That is why you run away!" he said, jabbing his finger in anger.

The blood drained from Vatili's face and he took a step backward. "It's not true," he said hotly. "No, no, this is not true! We are not killers. We are not soldiers. We did nothing."

Vatili insisted that he stayed in Zaire because other Hutus from Kabaya had been arrested. More than 80,000 Hutus are being held without trial in dismal prisons on charges of genocide. Many were arrested after trying to reclaim their homes from Tutsis.

Later, Vatili paced in front of his own home as his wife, Margaret, and two children sat in obvious exhaustion amid the jumble of jerrycans, burlap sacks, foam mattresses, and other items they had carried.

"The man who lives there, when he saw me he left," Vatili said anxiously. "I just want peace. I want to go slowly. I want to have a dialogue with him. If he does not, I will wait for the authorities."

Each of the country's 141 communes is responsible for deciding how long the Tutsis can remain in the Hutus' houses before moving out. In some areas, leaders have given a 15-day deadline, in others, a month.

But Kabaya's newly appointed Tutsi administrator, Alphonsi Kanyamajihi, said he'd been given no instructions yet. "The government must move them out," he said. "It's not up to me."