A burst of ethnic violence in Zaire's refugee camps, already plagued by misery and disease, has scared aid workers and hampered efforts to repatriate Rwandans.
"We seem to be operating in the camps in a virtual state of war," Ray Wilkinson, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters Thursday.Wilkinson spoke following an attack by Hutu extremists Wednesday on a group of big-game trackers and their families, who had asked to be taken back to their homes in Rwanda's famed gorilla reserve.
The mob's assault, which left one tracker seriously wounded, prompted the United Nations to suspend plans to repatriate large groups of refugees in vehicles.
Four French members of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent also had to be withdrawn from the camps after they received death threats Wednesday, Wilkinson said.
They were taken to a hotel in Goma and advised not to venture out on the streets, said Red Cross spokesman Andrew Hall.
One Zairian civilian was killed and 10 wounded by gunfire that was heard intermittently for more than an hour in Goma late Wednesday night, a hospital spokesman said.
Capt. Arnon Ben Israel of the Israeli army-run hospital in Goma said six of the wounded were admitted to his facility and "they are in bad shape with bullet wounds."
Witnesses said the shooting started as bands of Zairian soldiers tried to loot Rwandan refugees and Zairian residents of Goma.
Also Wednesday, Wilkinson said, aid workers in two different camps reported seeing two people being hacked to death by machete-wielding thugs.