RETURNING TO RUINS: Rwandan Refugees Find War’s Debris

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 by MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Monday, August 1, 1994

KIGALI. Rwanda – Thousands of Rwandan refugees returning home yesterday from camps in Zaire found their towns torn up by civil war.

About 700 refugees riding into the capital in an United Nations truck convoy yesterday faced a city battered by three months of tribal warfare. Buildings were damaged. Streets were littered with wrecked cars. Water and
electricity were scarce. Gas stations were destroyed. And a rebel government that has no administration or civil servants was struggling to get the ravaged nation back on its feet.

As the convoy threads its way through Rwanda’s towns and villages, the refugees see that nearly every place where people once lived and farmed appears deserted. Shops are bombed out. If you get up close to some houses the smell of rotting invades your senses.

Though disease has killed thousands of refugees packed into filthy camps, most Rwandans too frightened to return home. Many are convinced the new Tutsi-led government in Kigali will kill returning Hutus to avenge the massacres of Tutsis by Hutu extremist forces.

To make matter worse, the refugees in camps in Zaire may soon face a second wave of epidemics more deadly than the cholera that kills hundreds of people daily, said Serge Male, the UN specialist in contagious diseases.

He said an inevitable dysentery outbreak could claim 20,000 to 40,000 lives among the more than 1 million refugees near Goma. Measles, malaria and meningitis also loom.

At Ruhengeri Stadium yesterday in Zaire, Leonidaz Senzoga, an 85-year-old peasant, just wanted to get onto one of the trucks taking refugees to Kigali. His wife died of cholera in Goma. His two sons were killed at the outset of the war.

Amodu Omari, 50, also lost two sons in the war. He, his two wives and six surviving children walked about 50 miles in a week from Goma to Ruhengeri. They also wanted a spot on a truck.

Omari is not going home with any great hope, especially after hearing that someone else lives in his Kigali home.

“The problem is how do we start life Over again when most of our property has been stolen?” Omari asked.

One man struggling for a spot on a truck yesterday collapsed in the midmorning sun and died. A woman tried to nourish a week-old baby on breasts that did not seem able to produce milk.

Asani Motela, carrying a motoycycle helmet filled with bananas for his five children and wife, said he fled his Kigali home weeks ago.

His wife and children avoided the cholera that killed so many in Goma refugee camps. Now, he jUst hopes for the best in Kigali.

Yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry visited American troops In Kigali who are supplying purified water, boosting the efficiency of the airport and helping with other relief efforts.

French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur toured Goma yesterday to observe his troops. He sUggested France would bow to international requests for some of its 2,500 soldiers in Rwanda and Zaire to stay beyond an Aug. 22 deadline.
With News Wire Services