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Rwandans Die In Frontier Stampede

July 18, 1994

The Age
Monday July 18, 1994


Goma, Zaire

As the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) took a key step towards forming a government, the flood of Rwandans fleeing into Zaire reached up to a million yesterday. And up to 80 were killed in stampedes or by mortars when rebels attacked the retreating Government army in the border town of Gisenyi.

The United Nations and aid agencies appealed to the rebels to halt their advance to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

A French photographer, Charles Caratini, of Sygma, said a vast throng of refugees stampeded at the border crossing just inside Zaire when rebels attacked Gisenyi where remnants of the Hutu Government and its army had retreated. Mr Caratini said he saw 40 to 50 bodies in the dust, many of them children. One child was screaming as people tore him away from the body of his mother.

A mortar bomb landed several hundred metres inside Zaire, killing 20 to 25 refugees, another French photographer said. At least three other mortar bombs hit the Zairean border town of Goma, severely injuring several people, witnesses said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said today that up to 100,000 Rwandans had fled into Zaire from the town of Cyangugu, a French-declared safe area, in the past 24 hours. In Brussels, the RPF said it had won the civil war and was set to declare a unilateral ceasefire. A spokesman said the information came from the RPF’s headquarters in Kigali. “The message said they were ready to declare a unilateral ceasefire since the RPF had won the war in any case after having seized Gisenyi.”

Zairean soldiers earlier said the battle for Gisenyi had died down and that it appeared that Tutsi-led RPF forces had taken most of the lakeside town.

The RPF spokesman in Brussels said Gisenyi had been the last town from the blood-soaked central African state which had not yet been captured by rebel forces. He gave no further details.

Meanwhile, the RPF took an important step towards forming a government of national unity yesterday, naming two members of the rival Hutus as president and premier of the war-torn country.

Mr Pasteur Bizimungu was named president by consensus at a meeting of the front’s central committee, said an official, Mr Jacques Bizohagara.

The rebel movement, which has ousted the mainly Hutu interim government in a conflict that saw the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Tutsis, also confirmed Mr Faustin Twagiramungu as the new prime minister.

— Reuter, AFP.

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