Rwanda's Ricochet: Ethnic Strife in Zaire
RWANDA'S genocide in 1994 not only tore apart that country, but continues to cause havoc in neighboring countries as well. In Zaire, the influx of Rwandan Hutus is exacerbating existing ethnic conflicts.
Fighters from several ethnic groups in eastern Zaire - native Hunde people, and longtime Hutu and Tutsi exiles - have long raided one another's villages and engaged in small battles with little more than spears, machetes, and bows and arrows.
Now, with the arrival of more than a million Rwandan Hutu refugees in camps in Goma since 1994, the homeland of the fiercely independent Hunde people, in the province of Masisi, is in a state of chaos.
The Rwandan Hutus were fleeing victorious Tutsis, who regained power after the Hutu Army and militias killed more than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a four-month rampage. Many ended up in teeming refugee camps. Others came here, some heavily armed.
Local officials say members of the militia and the former Rwandan Army who have been hiding among the refugee population in the Goma camps are aware that they cannot stay there forever and are exploring areas in the interior of Zaire for resettlement. Masisi Province was once one of the most productive agricultural regions in Zaire.
''It's a very, very brutal conflict,'' says Piera Borradori of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in Goma. ''Masisi's not far from Goma, and Goma is a very civilized, modern town, but in Masisi there's real tribal fighting going on. The people look like warriors from another age, and they're targeting everyone: tiny children, women, and even old people.''