Saint Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana
Since early this year, some 7,600 Surinamians, fearing government massacres in an ongoing civil war, have trekked through jungle and paddled across the Maroni River to refuge in French Guiana. The world is largely unaware of their tribulations. But these ``bush negroes'' and Galibi Indians have fled a war that rages in the northeastern region of their country. The civil war pits the leader of Suriname's military left-leaning regime, Lt. Col. Desi Bouterse, against a few hundred ``bush negro'' guerrilla fighters led by Ronny Brunswijk, Colonel Bouterse's former bodyguard.
So far, 1,400 Galibi or Arawak Indians have been absorbed into French Guinanese coastal villages that are populated by members of the same Indian groups. The 6,200 remaining refugees are ``bush negroes,'' a tribal people made up of descendants of runaway slaves who fled to the jungle more than a century age. (Their name is translated from the Dutch word Bosneger.) They have been housed in villages and three refugee camps situated close to the riverside town of Saint Laurent du Maroni.
In the camp near Saint Laurent's airport, children play hide-and-seek in between the khaki tents, But the adults, deeply shaken by the loss of loved ones, remain somber.
``I am from Suriname,'' one refugee says, as if to remind himself of the world he left just months ago. As the man talks, he deftly finishes making a wooden plank with an axe. ``I lived in Meongo, 50 miles from her. We had some troubles in Suriname. Bouterse killed everybody. Women, and child, and everybody was killed.
``You see my wife.'' he asks.