Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tide of Refugees from Rwanda Inundates Relief Organizations

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tide of Refugees from Rwanda Inundates Relief Organizations

Article excerpt

A tidal wave of Hutu refugees from Rwanda's civil war flooded across the border Thursday, swamping relief organizations and Zairean authorities in instant chaos.

An estimated 200,000 to 250,000 people poured past three overwhelmed checkpoints along the border by late afternoon. They balanced bundles of possessions and mattresses on their heads, carried babies on their backs and herded along reluctant goats and cattle.

Up to 1 million Hutus have been reported on the road to Zaire. They are fleeing advancing Tutsi rebels in fear that the rebels want to avenge widespread massacres of minority Tutsis by extremist supporters of Rwanda's Hutu-dominated government.

No reports have been received of reprisals for the massacres, which have been blamed for most of the estimated 200,000 to 500,000 deaths in the latest round of the civil war.

In what could be among the largest exodus in history, 600 refugees crossed into Goma each minute at the peak of the flood Thursday, relief officials said. ln the next few days, the number of refugees around Goma alone could reach 900,000, they said.

Goma was a dusty city of 20,000 people before Rwanda's war resumed in April, but now is home to more than 150,000. Water is in short supply, even though the city is on the shore of Lake Kivu.

Officials fear trouble from local residents, who lined streets to watch the procession. Some shouted obscenities at the newcomers. Zairean soldiers confiscated machetes and knives from the refugees and confiscated the film of news photographers.

By afternoon the refugees filled four fields and a soccer stadium set aside for them, then started laying down mattresses, mats and tattered blankets anywhere they could find space. …

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