U.N. officials conceded Monday that their efforts to get refugees to go home to Rwanda and Burundi have been "a flop," raising the threat that Zaire would begin again to force them across the border.
Expulsions conducted at gunpoint by Zairian soldiers last week prompted some 173,000 frightened people to flee into the countryside and raised fears of a humanitarian catastrophe in a region without enough water or food to support the refugees.After persuading Zaire to pull its soldiers back, U.N. officials resumed a voluntary repatriation program Friday that has found few takers. Zairian officials, exasperated by the 1.2 million refugees camped along the country's eastern border for more than a year, have suggested that expulsions could resume if the United Nations fails.
Joel Boutroue, head of the U.N. refugee program in Goma, on Monday called the U.N. effort "a flop." He said refugees were not going home because they fear retribution from extremists in the camps who do not want them to return.
"Until that problem has been addressed, there will be very little voluntary repatriation," he said.
Nearly all the refugees are Hutus, the ethnic majority blamed for the massacres of at least 500,000 Rwandans during last year's civil war. Most victims were minority Tutsis, the ethnic group that defeated the former Hutu regime and now holds power in Rwanda.
Hutus fear retribution from Tutsis if they return to Rwanda or Burundi, which has the same ethnic divisions as Rwanda.
They also fear the Hutu extremists in the camps, who have the most to lose by returning home. The militants use the camps as a power base from which they hope to destabilize Rwanda's new government.
A landmine exploded Monday morning under a U.N. truck, injuring two Zairian workers. Zairian police blamed Hutu militants trying to stop the repatriation process.