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RWANDAN WAR TAKING HEAVY TOLL ON PYGMIES

SHARE RWANDAN WAR TAKING HEAVY TOLL ON PYGMIES

Huddled together in a corner of the largest Rwandan refugee camp, a group of pygmies mustered up enough courage to ask foreign aid workers if they, too, could get some food.

"We are also hungry," said Batwa pygmy leader Rwego Mwangaguhaba as the group of 11 men and two children held hands so they wouldn't get separated amid some 300,000 refugees in the Kibumba camp.Traditionally spurned by the Tutsis and Hutus alike, the Rwandan pygmies were afraid to venture into the camps.

The pygmies, dressed in tattered Western-style clothing, were given some scraps of food and made their way back into the hills.

Until earlier this week, not much was known about the suffering of the pygmies, who have been living in hills near Goma since fleeing the Rwandan blood bath.

One of the pygmies, a member of an international organization that represents the Batwa, managed to flee in July and travel to The Hague. He told reporters there on Wednesday that as much as three-fourths of his ethnic group was slaughtered or missing.

Before the Rwandan conflict, there were an estimated 250,000 pygmies across Central Africa. The 30,000 pygmies in Rwanda - about 1 percent of the country's population of 7.5 million before the civil war - were hated by both Hutus and Tutsis, said Charles Uwiragye. The pygmies descended from what is believed to be one of the oldest ethnic groups in Africa.

"I am very sure that maybe more than 75 percent . . . might have disappeared or been killed during the fighting since April," said Uwiragye, executive secretary of the Association for the Promotion of Batwa Pygmies.