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Rwanda's death camp

By V. Venkatesan

DEAD men tell no tales, but last fortnight hundreds of bodies were being exhumed at a Rwandan refugee camp as part of an inquiry into a mass massacre there, in the hope that the bodies would tell some tales.

United Nations officials say at least 2,000 Hutu men, women and children died on April 18 when Tutsi troops opened fire at the camp in Kibeho, in the southwest of the Central African country. Some died in the firing, others in the stampede it triggered.

The 10-month-old Government in Kigali claims its soldiers fired in self-defence when militants in the camp attacked them, and that only a few hundred were killed. But following international outrage, it ordered an inquiry to determine if the soldiers had overreacted, and invited Western countries and the U.N. to take part in the exercise.

The Government ahd been trying to disband the camp and get the 80,000 Hutus--including machete-wielding militiamen--who had fled their homes during last year's war and ethnic killings, back to their villages.

An estimated one million, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were massacred between April and July 1994 following the assassination of Hutu military strongman Juvenal Habyarimana. When the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front advanced on Kigali, fleeing Hutus took refuge in a safe zone set up near Kibeho.

Hutu militia within the camp have resorted to violence and prevented their tribesmen from returning home--which was why the Government had decreed that it be closed down. Encouraged by U.N. officials and aid workers, tens of thousands left, but the 50,000 that remained were herded onto Kibeho's hillside camp without sufficient food and water. It was to induce them to leave that the troops allegedly opened fire. n

(Published in Frontline, May 19, 1995)

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