November 19, 1996 in Nation/World

Returning Hutus Find Tutsis Living In Their Homes

Bob Drogin Los Angeles Times
 

A little boy ran down a muddy path here just after noon Monday to break the news. “They are coming!” he shouted.

Soon they straggled in, 33 ethnic Hutus who had fled this remote hamlet in western Rwanda for the foul refugee camps of Zaire on July 17, 1994. Now, returning for the first time, they dropped their soiled bundles in the weeds and looked around.

They were finally home. But they were not welcome.

Ethnic Tutsis had taken over the eight Hutu families’ homes and farms. And the Tutsis angrily refused to leave. By late afternoon, the drama had turned dangerously tense: A Tutsi accused a returning Hutu of mass murder, and the terrified Hutus predicted they would be killed in the night.

“They will kill the newcomers,” whispered John Magese, 53, a Hutu peasant who grabbed a visitor’s arm. “They want to keep all the land.”

By Monday, an estimated half a million Hutus had hiked home to Tutsi-controlled Rwanda from Zaire in the last four days. But as the mass exodus dwindled to a trickle, the uneasy homecoming here suggested that the bitter ethnic and caste divisions that exploded in the Hutu-led genocide of minority Tutsis two years ago are far from over.

Like most Rwandan villages, this cluster of mud-walled houses and huts is hidden among lushly terraced hills and miles from the nearest paved road. And like most, the toll from the 1994 genocide - in which more than 800,000 people were killed nationwide - was devastating here: In one night of horror, local Hutu militias hacked to death all but five of Kabaya’s 200 Tutsis.

But when the Hutus fled in disarray from a Tutsi-led guerrilla army, Tutsi survivors of the massacres and Tutsis who had escaped pogroms in Zaire were allowed to occupy the abandoned houses.

That was the problem Monday.

Anosiata Nyarampabaka, 35, a baby bundled on her back and another at her side, warily walked up to the door of her former home. “There are people living there,” she said. “I will take the plastic sheeting (from the refugee camp) and tell them they must sleep outside.”

But Odari Ruyugabigwi, 40, a Tutsi trader, refused to budge. “Why should I leave?” he asked, glaring at the Hutus. “I don’t want to be a refugee too.”

John Vatili, 40, the leader of the returnees, pleaded for a room to store the woman’s belongings. But Ruyugabigwi furiously accused him of joining in the genocide. “That is why you run away!” he said, jabbing his finger in anger.

The blood drained from Vatili’s face and he took a step backward. “It’s not true,” he said hotly. “No, no, this is not true! We are not killers.”

Vatili insisted that he stayed in Zaire because other Hutus from Kabaya had been arrested. More than 80,000 Hutus are being held without trial in dismal prisons on charges of genocide.

For all the problems, some signs of reconciliation were evident. Juru Anastase, a Tutsi peasant, lost all nine members of his family and his house to the rampaging Hutus. But he rushed to greet Vatili with a hug.

“These are my friends who are coming back,” Anastase, 38, said. “Even the ones who are killers, I must forgive them. Some people have come to me and said: ‘I destroyed your house. I will help rebuild it.’ And one man came and said he killed my brother but it was a terrible time and could I forgive him? And I must. I don’t want to be alone without friends.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email