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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Refugee Trek Impeded by Zaire Unrest

GOMA, Zaire -- Aid workers urged 20,000 Rwandan refugees Monday to trek south of the rebel-held northeastern capital of Kisangani for their own security, in line with a rebel deadline.

Rebels said they were ready for talks with President Mobutu Sese Seko's representatives Thursday, probably in South Africa, to prepare for a meeting between him and rebel chief Laurent Kabila.

Kilian Kleinschmidt of the United Nations' refugee agency in Kisangani said moving the refugees from Lula, 7 kilometers south of Kisangani, to 19 kilometers south of the city, was delayed by the killing of three Zairean traders late Sunday.

"Three traders were killed at kilometer four, reportedly by ex-FAR, last night so there was a search [by rebels] and some armed elements were found and were arrested or something," he said.

The Tutsi-dominated rebels, who seized Kisangani on March 15, say the Hutu Rwandan and Burundian refugees must move away from Kisangani for security reasons as they might include former members of the Rwandan armed forces, FAR, and Hutu militiamen.

The ex-FAR and former Interahamwe militiamen had a leading role in the 1994 genocide of up to 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in Rwanda and have fought alongside Zairean troops against the rebels.

"The [rebel] principle is still that everyone at Lula has to move today, and especially with that security incident it is good to get them to move to get this tension defused," Kleinschmidt said. He said the refugees had said they would cooperate.

Aid workers said the 20,000 at Lula were in better shape than the up to 60,000 further south of Kisangani, as the weakest were left behind, fleeing rebel advances since November.

The rebels have seized one-quarter of Africa's third largest country since October and are following a strategy of fighting while talking in their bid to oust Mobutu, who has ruled since 1965.

In Kinshasa, airport officials said an explosion killed a Zairean man in a customs office at the capital's international airport early Monday and that a second man was slightly hurt.

The rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire said Monday it was ready for talks with President Mobutu Sese Seko's representatives on Thursday.