About 600 refugee holdouts from Rwanda’s latest cycle of horror barricaded themselves Monday inside a school strewn with mangled bodies, facing down army troops who pointed recoilless rifles and demanded they come out.
The refugees refused to join 100,000 terrified people trudging through ankle-deep mud away from the slaughter at the Kibeho camp, which was closed down by Rwandan troops in a chaotic, bloody weekend operation that left at least 2,000 dead from gunfire and stampedes.
A report issued Monday by a human rights group criticized U.N. troops who were there at the time, saying they had failed to protect civilians in their care.
The report by Human Rights Watch-Africa acknowledged there were only 200 U.N. troops, too few to confront the 2,000 Rwandan soldiers at Kibeho. But it said the U.N. force had failed to anticipate the threat posed by the Rwandan army buildup and hadn’t called in more U.N. troops.
A U.N. spokesman in New York, Joe Sills, declined direct comment on the report but noted that peacekeepers have been sheltering 400 children, put their medical facilities on alert and were transporting the injured by helicopter.
After initially saying as many as 5,000 people had been killed, the U.N. Assistance Mission reduced its estimate Sunday to “a more scientific count” of about 2,000 dead and 600 hurt.
About 20 U.N. medical corpsmen, guarded by 20 U.N. soldiers with automatic rifles - some with bayonets attached - moved onto the school grounds Monday to evacuate the wounded.
At least 60 people, most badly beaten or wounded by machetes, were put on the road outside where Red Cross doctors examined their wounds and determined who would be moved first. None appeared to have bullet wounds.
Stretcher bearers stumbled through the trash that carpeted the courtyard and buried some bodies, including one baby.
Inside, several bodies were sprawled on a staircase leading to the second floor. In one room, a woman lay next to the corpse of an old man while naked children played on the floor.
“Please find us another place to go. We are afraid,” said Jenne Mukamana, one of the refugees inside the school grounds.
Many of the people there apparently are hard-line Hutus who have the most to fear from the Tutsi-led army for the slaughter last year of some 500,000 Rwandans, most of them Tutsis. Tens of thousands of Hutus fled to Kibeho in July as Tutsi rebels overthrew the Hutu government. Many are afraid to return.
“We can’t go home. They will kill us,” said one of the leaders of the refugees, 73-year-old Silas Ndangamira.