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Now, new challenges for refugees // IN ZAIRE

Rwandan refugees streamed out of the Virunga National Park in eastern Zaire on Saturday, making their way to the Rwandan border after 2{ years in exile.

In the border town of Goma, transit point for more than a half-million Rwandans who have returned in the past week, doctors report a sharp rise in cases of cholera, which can be fatal if not immediately treated.

The latest refugees, numbering about 4,000, were exhausted and hungry, and said there were weaker people still in the forest who needed help.

Refugees in camps in eastern Zaire north and south of Lake Kivu fled to the surrounding countryside in the past month to escape fighting between Zairian rebels, government troops and Rwandan Hutu militiamen.

The militiamen had taken control of the huge Mugunga refugee camp northwest of Goma, but a rebel attack Nov.

15 drove them away and freed more than 500,000 refugees who poured back into Rwanda during the past week.

International relief organizations maintain there are still 700,000 refugees in eastern Zaire, but Rwandan Transport Minister Charles Murigande said in Geneva that U.S. satellite photos indicated there were 175,000.

In a meeting of donor nations and aid agencies in Geneva, J. Brian Atwood, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said countries appeared willing to provide Rwanda with more than $700-million to help resettle the returning refugees. No actual aid pledges were made, however.

A separate meeting that began in Stuttgart, Germany, on Friday is discussing plans for a U.N.-authorized, Canadian-led military mission to rescue refugees trapped in Zaire.

Those plans have been held up in part because of the changing situation on the ground, including Rwanda's claim that military intervention is not needed now that so many refugees have returned home.

The Hutu refugees fled Rwanda in 1994 fearing retribution for a Hutu government-led massacre of 500,000 Rwandans, mainly of Rwanda's Tutsi minority. They lived in the Zairian camps until last month's fighting.

Refugees who ran from Katale and Kahindo camps, 40 miles north of Goma, on Oct. 30, have emerged in the old Mugunga camp. Many stop there before making the final leg of the trip to Goma, 6 miles west.

Prudence Mukumbashimana, sitting next to a campfire with her family in the ruins of the camp, cooked the last of the meager food she brought out of the forest in celebration of her last night in Zaire.

"Many, many people are dead. Men attacked us in Katongo so we fled into the forest to come here," said Mukumbashimana. "Thousands more are behind us, but we haven't had any problems in the forest."