RWANDA-UGANDA: Over 1,000 refugees flee to Uganda

KAMPALA, 20 April 2005 (IRIN) - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Wednesday at least 1,118 Rwandans had crossed over to southwestern Uganda since the beginning of April, with some of them claiming to be escaping "arbitrary arrests" at home.

"We have asked the government to start a process of their registration," Mikael Rasmussen, a UNHCR voluntary-registration officer, said from the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

He had just returned from Nakivale in the district of Mbarara, in southwestern Uganda.

Rasmussen said the majority of refugees started arriving on 4 April. The Rwandans, comprising 295 families, were in a refugee camp in Nakivale.

"The [Ugandan] government is the one to determine their status - through the office of the prime minister - and what should be done with them," he added.

On Monday, UNHCR told IRIN that another 2,000 Rwandans had fled to northern Burundi since the end of March. UNHCR said it had yet to established why Rwandans were fleeing their homes.

A humanitarian worker, who also requested anonymity, said some Rwandans had told him they had fled in fear of arrest and prosecution by Rwanda's traditional justice system, known as "Gacaca".

Gacaca courts began operating across Rwanda in March, as part of the government's efforts to clear a backlog of genocide cases that were pending before the regular national courts.

Nearly one in 10 of Rwanda's eight million people face charges stemming from the 1994 genocide, according to official estimates. An estimated 10,000 have been tried to date before national courts.

Gacaca courts, based on a traditional village model of delivering justice, have the power to acquit or convict genocide suspects, and hand down sentences ranging from community service to life imprisonment.

Theme (s): Refugees/IDPs,


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