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Rwandan Orphans and Displaced Face Deteriorating Conditions

RICHARD JOLLY, deputy executive director of UNICEF, tells the story: At a church mission near the airport in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, a dozen or so orphans were ``bouncing around'' in play. But in one corner, a girl about two years old sat silently.

``Her eyes gazed forward with a vacant look. What had she seen? Why was she there on her own?'' asks Mr. Jolly, who visited the orphanage last week.

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This week, a UNICEF team will visit northern Rwanda to investigate the needs of what Rwanda Patriotic Front rebels claim are some 8,000 to 10,000 orphans among the more than 200,000 displaced Rwandese in camps in RPF-controlled territory. Some of the orphans, RPF officials told Jolly, are ``so traumatized they couldn't or wouldn't speak.''

UNICEF's mission is part of a slowly expanding international effort to help some 1.6 million uprooted Rwandese that the United Nations estimates are still in the war-shattered country.

``There is growing, acute need of relief assistance for the affected populations, particularly in Kigali and southern Rwanda, where cases of malnutrition are reported to be on the increase,'' says Catherine Bertini, executive director for the UN World Food Programme.

So far, the WFP and International Committee of the Red Cross have reached only about 240,000 of the displaced, many of whom are living in ``very desperate conditions,'' according to the WFP. United States officials estimate some 650,000 Rwandese are displaced (uprooted, but still in Rwanda), while another 670,000 who are still on their land face possible famine from drought.

Jolly describes the capital as practically a ``deserted town.'' He estimates only about 50,000 to 60,000 people remain in Kigali, compared to a population of about 350,000 before the war broke out two months ago. Bodies have been cleared from most streets, he says, but piles of as many as 60 to 100 are still in some houses.

The UN suspended evacuation flights from the capital yesterday after government forces launched their first major counteroffensive against the advancing RPF. It was the second suspension within three days. After mortar shells hit the airport Sunday, the UN canceled relief flights into the capital until this Friday.

But Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian who commands the UN forces in Rwanda, told reporters that cease-fire talks between the government and rebel forces would resume tomorrow.

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A poignant letter dated May 24 from one of the displaced reached this correspondent on June 3 in Nairobi, apparently hand-carried to Kenya and mailed, perhaps, by a relief worker.

Faustin, an employee of an international organization, was living in Kigali when the killings began (his last name and that of his employer have been withheld for his protection). With his three-year-old son and pregnant wife, he talked his way through barricades in the city, armed by gangs and littered with bodies, to temporary refuge in downtown Kigali. They then made it to Gitarama, a government-held town some 30 miles away, and from there fled to Butare, where the letter was mailed.

Along their route, they were attacked three times, and on May 12, his wife gave birth to a girl.

``We don't have food, nor a salary; our money is blocked at the bank, and there are no agencies aiding the displaced,'' he wrote of life in Butare.

Like many of the displaced, Faustin wants to flee to Burundi but fears unconfirmed reports that Rwandese have been killed either trying to cross the border or once inside Burundi. Officials in Burundi, which has the same ethnic mix as Rwanda, say they want to avoid a spillover of its neighbor's conflict.

More than 300,000 Rwandese have fled Rwanda - most to northern Tanzania, where Jolly says they are getting reasonably good care. The malnutrition rate in the main camp near Ngara, Tanzania, is only 15 percent among young children.

But orphaned children under two are vulnerable to sickness and hunger because they cannot care for themselves, he says.

UN officials are concerned about the possibility that thousands of Rwandese amassing along Rwanda's border may cross seeking food and shelter, further straining food supplies at places like Ngara.

Jolly says UNICEF may need up to $12 million by the end of the year to meet the needs of children caught in Rwanda's crisis.

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