Cooperation from Rwanda's defeated government is vital to quickly repatriate more than 1 million Hutu refugees who fled Rwanda for Zaire, a U.N. official said Tuesday.
Cabinet ministers from Zaire and Rwanda's new Tutsi-led government were to meet in the Zairian border town of Goma Tuesday to explore ways to persuade the Hutus to go home. The meeting will build on talks junior officials held Monday.Goma is overwhelmed by some 840,000 Rwandans who fled the country's civil war and are now housed in wretched refugee camps.
"The very fact that the two governments are talking makes us very encouraged," said Ray Wilkinson, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
But he warned that progress hinges on cooperation from Rwanda's former government of Hutu extremists, which was overthrown in July and is now waging a campaign of terror in Goma's camps against people who want to return.
The estimated 20,000 Hutu soldiers, militiamen and their former government ministers are trying to stop the refugees from returning, telling them they will be killed by Tutsis if they go back.
Even without the warnings, most Hutus fear the Tutsis are eager to avenge the slaughter of up to 500,000 of their tribespeople by Hutu militias and soldiers earlier in the year.
Exiled Hutu leaders say they will ask the refugees to return only after the Tutsis agree to share power and U.N. peacekeepers ensure the refugees' safety. So far, former government officials have not been invited to the talks, Wilkinson said.
"Eventually, probably a tripartite agreement will be established for the refugees," he said. "However, we're not going to sign the agreement tomorrow."