JOHANNESBURG — THE Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the rebel group poised to take control of the Rwandan capital of Kigali following one of the worst civilian massacres of the 20th century, is opposed to a United Nations Peacekeeping Force playing an interventionist role in that war-torn country.
``We would welcome a humanitarian mission, which brought relief to those internally displaced in Rwanda and offered protection to refugees who have fled the killings,'' said Theogene Rudasingwa, secretary-general of the RPF, during a visit here.
The RPF, made up mainly of the minority Tutsis, is increasingly seen in diplomatic circles as the country's best hope for rescuing tens of thousands of Tutsis trapped in Kigali and creating a more democratic government.
``Our military efforts are directed at achieving a political settlement in which the RPF would be one of a range of democratic forces to take their place in a government of national unity,'' Dr. Rudasingwa told the Monitor.
The six-week wave of killings, described by aid workers as genocide, has claimed about 500,000 lives (7 percent of the population), as the Hutu-dominated regime in Kigali unleashed militias, armed civilians, and soldiers on the Tutsi minority.
The Rwandan government estimates that there are 800,000 Tutsis in the country, roughly 10 percent of the population. Rebel leaders insist there are far more Tutsis inside the country and more than 1 million mostly Tutsi refugees outside its borders.
The killings followed the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his airplane was shot down on April 6. The Hutu president of neighboring Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, also died in the crash. A military team from Belgium concluded that the plane was shot down with rockets belonging to the Rwandan Army by elements angered at the prospect of Tutsis being included in government.
The two leaders had been discussing a plan to create a broader-based government in Rwanda in line with an agreement signed by several parties in Arusha, Tanzania, last August.
Rudasingwa, a medical doctor who runs the RPF party machine and cells from a base in northern Rwanda, criticizes the international community for its tardy response to the crisis and chides nations that maintained links with those the aggressors. He said the RPF would not agree to a cease-fire in the country until those responsible for the ``genocide'' had been brought to justice.
``We are asking the international community not to accord legitimacy to those responsible for the genocide,'' Rudasingwa said. ``We would welcome their assistance in setting up an international tribunal to try them for crimes against humanity.''
Amid Rudasingwa's visit here, a public controversy has raged over whether South Africa should contribute to the 5,500-strong UN force that will be deployed in the country under the unanimous UN Security Council decision on Tuesday. Rudasingwa met with Defense Minister Joe Modise and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad.
Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo said that while South Africa was ``extremely concerned by the carnage in recent weeks in Rwanda,'' it was not contemplating sending troops at this stage. South Africa has not yet taken its seat in the UN Assembly and is not yet a member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
Some 470 members of the beleaguered UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) are in Kigali and 500 Ghanaian troops and 150 military observers are due to arrive soon. But UN officials say deployment of the full force could take weeks. UNAMIR was reduced from 2,500 after 11 of its members were killed and several injured following the outbreak of fighting on April 6.
``We want to emphasize that it is fine for the world to be appalled at the carnage and condemn it - but it is time to do something,'' UNAMIR executive director Abdul Kabia told Reuters. Rwandan rebel leader Paul Kagame told Reuters on Wednesday that the UN moves had come far too late. The UN commander, Canadian Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, has acknowledged that - even at full strength - UN peacekeepers could not end the carnage.
Rudasingwa says that the genocide has been carried out by a small group of people, including elements of the national Army, militias, and presidential guard.
``We regard the government as illegal and illegitimate because it does not represent the aspirations of the majority of the people,'' he says. ``It is a clique of people who have just unleashed terror on the population whether they are Hutus or Tutsis.''
Rudasingwa says that it was over-simplistic to see the conflict in Rwanda as merely ethnic strife between the Hutus and the Tutsis. The colonial intervention had fortified the ethnic divisions and successive post-independence leaderships had thrived on those divisions for their own gain rather than trying to unite the nation.