14 Returnees Reported Killed, U.N. Mandate Under Scrutiny
KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) _ The last of Rwanda’s refugee camps was emptied Sunday as thousands of people were trucked back to their villages. But 14 people were reported beaten and stoned to death when they returned home, and a U.N. envoy suggested it may be time to give peacekeepers the power to protect civilians.
In a driving rain, a column of trucks filled with shivering people left the Ndera camp outside Kigali and headed for villages. Fernando Del Mundo of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said 3,400 people left Ndera on Sunday, clearing the last official refugee center in the central African country.
While the camps are cleared, however, the problem of resettling people in villages where many are accused of war crimes is far from solved. Most of those in the camps were Hutus, the ethnic majority blamed for last year’s wartime genocide that killed an estimated 500,000 people. The genocide targeted the Tutsi ethnic minority, and when a Tutsi-led government came to power in 1994 the Hutus fled to camps for protection.
The government ordered camps to begin closing two weeks ago, saying they had become strongholds for Hutu militiamen. Since the forced resettlement began, hundreds of former refugees have been thrown into village prisons on suspicion of participation in the genocide, and scores have died either in dangerously overcrowded cells or in revenge attacks.
In the latest reported incident, 14 people were stoned and beaten to death Thursday in Huye, outside the southwestern city of Butare, Del Mundo said.
Few details were available, but Del Mundo said village residents, U.N. military observers and aid workers reported the killings. There was no explanation for why it took four days for the UNHCR to learn of the deaths.
Del Mundo said the United Nations would post a human rights monitor in Huye to reassure the 8,000 refugees there, but he said the world body simply did not have enough people to keep a close watch everywhere.
In addition, 2 million more refugees remain in camps outside Rwanda, and some guarantee of protection must be given if they are to return home and Rwanda’s postwar reconciliation is to have a chance at success.
The killings of thousands of refugees at the Kibeho camp April 22 and 23 has put pressure on Rwanda’s government to improve protection for refugees, and U.N. special envoy Aldo Aiello indicated a stronger U.N. role might help.
U.N. soldiers could only watch as Rwandan troops _ mostly Tutsis _ fired on Kibeho’s mainly Hutu residents because their mandate did not let them intervene, Aiello told a news conference.
``I think we have a good opportunity now ... to review this mandate and to make sure that what we are supposed to do, we can do,″ said Aiello, who was sent to Rwanda after the Kibeho killings. The mandate is up for review June 9 by the Security Council, which could toughen it to let U.N. troops fire in situations other than just self-defense.
The Kibeho killings occurred as Rwandan troops trying to close the camp fired on the crowd, setting off a stampede.
The government says 338 people died, but aid workers and U.N. soldiers at the scene put the figure far higher and allege a cover-up. Mass graves are concealed in the hills, and hundreds of bodies are stashed in pit latrines at the camp, according to several people who helped in the body count.
In addition, U.N. soldiers at Kibeho have reported seeing flashlights in the hills at night and hearing trucks move through the camp, presumably to haul away bodies before an international investigation begins May 3.
Some have said Rwandan troops used mortars and grenades on refugees and shot them through the back as they fled. The United Nations puts the death count at 2,000, although on the days of the violence some soldiers estimated 8,000 people could have been killed.
Determining the real death count is essential, because it will show whether Rwanda’s government attempted a cover-up and whether Rwandan troops used heavy fire power rather than just firing in self-defense as the government claims.