Rwanda's Tragedy

WITH an infuriating abruptness in the face of human carnage, an official for Rwanda's interim government says simply, ``We're not talking just now,'' when describing the state of cease-fire negotiations with rebels attacking the capital of Kigali.

The current paroxysm of strife between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi has its roots in a history that gave Tutsis the lead role in running what is now Rwanda until they were overthrown by Hutus in 1959. Since 1990, Tutsis based in Uganda have waged a civil war against Rwanda's one-party regime, which had adopted ethnic-based policies that discriminated against Tutsis.

Twelve days ago, the civil war degenerated into an ethnic free-for-all in the capital after a plane carrying Rwandan President Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutus, was downed as it returned to Kigali. Government troops went gunning for Tutsis, who responded in kind against any available Hutu. Since then, the death toll has risen from ``tens of thousands'' to a point where one frustrated aid official describes such numbers as ``academic.''

The list of those sharing that frustration must be long, beginning with the Organization of African Unity, which last August brokered an agreement between the government and rebels to form an interim regime, bring Tutsis into the armed forces, and hold elections in 1995. The list surely includes the United Nations, which has threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers - themselves relegated to their barracks, powerless spectators to an unfolding tragedy - if the two sides fail to agree on a truce.

Although the UN must pursue cease-fire efforts, global support to meet humanitarian needs must intensify. The current strife has generated more than 100,000 refugees. Although the trail may be cold, the UN also must fully investigate the death of the two presidents; some officials suggest Hutu extremists could be responsible. It may be too much to hope for with passions running so high, but clear accountability for the leaders' deaths could help defuse the crisis.

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