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Now, new challenges for refugees // IN RWANDA

Rwanda's government finally got what it has wanted for two years: The murderous militias on its western borders are on the run, and the masses who fled the country in 1994 are finally back home or headed there.

The militias and the refugees were two of Rwanda's biggest problems. But a new set of challenges awaits that could just as easily overwhelm the impoverished nation.

Rwanda says it needs $500-million just to resettle the returnees. Disputes over ownership of homes left behind by refugees could provoke new conflicts. Food shortages are looming. Hutus and Tutsis must find ways to heal mental wounds left by the 1994 genocide.

"We are trying to get out of the emergency cycle. But every time we want to do some long-term development, we have another disaster," said Christine Umutoni, deputy minister for rehabilitation and social integration.

The returning refugees will add to pressure on land in one of Africa's most densely populated nations.

Aid agencies say care must be taken to avoid crowding that could fan the ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis, which has bloodied the recent history of Rwanda and neighboring Burundi and eastern Zaire.

"The root cause (of the conflict) is poverty and pressure of population on limited resources." said Omar Bakhet, head of the U.N. Development Program in Rwanda. "Whatever we do, the main objective is reconciliation and co-existence."

As trucks and buses jammed with homeward-bound refugees fan out over Rwanda, the usual emergency problems of food and medicine are not the main concern. Most of the refugees are in relatively good health. U.N. workers are distributing rations, and refugees could forage for bananas and potatoes from the fertile fields along the route from Zaire.

The first major problems with the 500,000 Hutu refugees are housing and the handling of those suspected of joining in the 1994 massacre of Tutsis instigated by the government then in power, which was dominated by the Hutu majority.

Although the government is Tutsi-led, it says returning Hutus can reclaim homes they abandoned _ even if many are now occupied by Tutsis who survived the massacre, Tutsis who returned from exile or Hutus who stayed in the country.

"It's a very complicated situation. We are trying to get resources to be able to resettle people who will be thrown out of other people's property," said Vice President Paul Kagame.

So far, the returning refugees appear to have met little acrimony. In some cases, homecoming Hutus are temporarily sharing their former houses with the Tutsis they find in them. Local authorities have given people 15 days to vacate returnees' property.