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Relief officials in Tanzania struggled Saturday to cope with the sudden influx of a quarter-million Rwandan refugees as Rwandan rebels reportedly closed the border crossing, preventing possibly hundreds of thousands more from fleeing the country's ethnic violence.

With the reported border sealing by guerrillas of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Friday's exodus of 250,000 people slowed to a trickle, but by nightfall, tired and destitute refugees were still showing up at a U.N. refugee camp at Ngara, Tanzania, about 10 miles from the border.Friday's refugee surge came after Rwandan army border guards fled their positions in the face of a rebel attack. Relief officials differed over how many would-be refugees were trapped in Rwanda when the rebels arrived and resealed the border, but most estimates said the next wave could be as large, and as rapid, as the first. U.N. officials said they plan to visit the border area to assess the condition of Rwandans there and negotiate another opening.

Those fleeing were said to be majority Hutus fearing retribution from the predominantly Tutsi guerrilla movement, as well as Tutsi survivors of the mass killings against that minority ethnic group during more than three weeks of bloodletting.

There were new reports of massacres Saturday. A U.N. official said shooting could be heard from the Rwandan side of the border and that "mutilated and decapitated bodies" were floating down the Kagera River into Tanzania at a rate of about 25 bodies every hour.

The sudden influx into Tanzania, the largest refugee movement in a single day, has severely strained the resources of relief workers, who concede that the tragedy caught them by surprise. A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees at the scene told news agencies that food stocks at the Ngara camp could hold for only about five days, but that water was a problem.

"For the time being, we are coping, but not for many days," said the spokesman, Panos Moumtzis.

A U.N. spokesman in Geneva said the nearby lake could probably provide enough water to support 300,000 people for up to 50 days.

The U.N. agency already is planning a series of emergency airlifts, possibly as early as Monday, to take blankets, plastic sheeting, cooking utensils and other necessary items to the refugees.

With Rwanda's chaos and bloodletting showing few signs of abating, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has asked the Security Council to reconsider its decision to withdraw all but a token contingent of a U.N. military force from the country. But most analysts said a military intervention seemed unlikely, especially after many Western countries learned a painful lesson in Somalia about intervening in an African civil war.

"The world has washed its hands in Rwanda precisely because they saw how difficult it was to intervene in Somalia," said Michael Chege, a Kenyan scholar now at Harvard University.

President Clinton called on Rwandan leaders Saturday to stop the ethnic bloodletting. In a statement, Clinton said: "It is time for the leaders of Rwanda to recognize their common bond of humanity and to reject the senseless and criminal violence that continues to plague their country." Clinton urged the rebels and the government army "to agree to an immediate cease-fire and return to negotiations aimed at a lasting peace in their country."



Rwanda refugees

Rwandan rebels closed the border with Tanzania on Saturday after 250,000 refugees fled across the frontier to escape the ethnic slaughter in Rwanda.