KIGALI, RWANDA — AS Rwanda's new leaders plunge into the task of setting up a government, they are coming under international scrutiny on three issues: refugees, composition of the new government, and elections.
Their response reveals, at least at the top, a spirit of reconciliation. But they also convey a deep-seated insistence on punishment for Hutus found responsible for genocidal massacres in a war that killed an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people in little more than three months.
Rwanda's new Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu works from his suite in a hotel still fortified with sandbags from three months of heavy fighting here. It is one of the few buildings with a generator in this capital without power, water, or phones.
The real strongman in the new government is soft-spoken Tutsi rebel leader Paul Kagame, now vice president and minister of defense. He is still escorted by a pickup truck laden with heavily armed soldiers. For diplomatic meetings, though, he switches from field boots and battle fatigues to polished dress shoes and a gray suit that is a bit baggy on his tall, thin frame.
The new leaders, while open to foreign suggestions and humanitarian intervention, insist on doing things their way:
Refugees. The death rate from cholera continues to accelerate among the estimated 1.2 million refugees around Goma, Zaire. The US military is shifting part of its relief operation, and hundreds of soldiers, to the airport here. Senior UN officials hope that sending relief to refugees, and possibly returnees, from the capital will help persuade Hutus who fled the country that the rebel government is not dangerous.
``There is need for a massive return of refugees from abroad,'' said Peter Hansen, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, talking this week at a joint airport press conference with Mr. Kagame.
But a spree of looting by the mostly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) here has frightened residents and may deter refugees from returning.
``Some military officers are drunk with victory,'' Prime Minister Twagiramungu told the Monitor. ``They're very tough. For people to come back, they must be assured of security.'' He says his government is trying to restore discipline in the army.
The refugees ``have nothing to fear from our government,'' Mr. Kagame added in a separate interview. He says human rights monitors are welcome to observe the repatriation process. The RPF has authorized relief agencies to position food and other items near the Zairean border to encourage refugees to come back.
Despite the mounting death toll from cholera (now more than 14,000 around Goma) the flow of returning refugees has been relatively small. The mostly Hutu refugees in the camps say they fear being killed by the Tutsis.
Some, Kagame says, should fear returning; those who did the killing should expect punishment. ``There are very many [killers]. We are setting a principle; those who committed crimes should be brought to justice,'' he says.
Makeup of the new government. The US, apparently alone, is pressing the new leaders to include enough members from the former regime to make the new government acceptable to the many Hutus who are fearful of the RPF. Hutus comprise about 85 percent of the population, though many opposed the ousted Hutu-dominated government.
The US wants a ``broad-based'' government, says US Ambassador to Rwanda David Rawson. Twagiramungu says that of about 20 ministers in the new government, only eight or nine are RPF.
Two members of the former government have been offered posts, but have turned them down, he says.
Tom Ndahiro, an RPF information official, makes a blanket condemnation of the former government. ``I can't get a proper word for it; it's evil. We can't negotiate with these people.''
A UN report last month charged the ousted government with preplanned genocide.
Elections. Twagiramungu says elections should be held in 22 months, as outlined in the 1993 Arusha (Tanzania) Accords signed between the RPF and the previous government. He allows for possible changes in those accords by a national assembly that has yet to be established.
Others in the new government are less specific. The RPF-appointed president, Pasteur Bizimungu, says elections cannot be held for five years. Kagame offers no target date, and admits - perhaps for the first time - that the Arusha Accords will be followed only in principle, not in detail.
But Twagiramungu is careful to insist that Rwanda's future must be based on democracy and concedes that the country has ``a long way to go'' to reach that goal.
Asked if Rwanda can break the cycle of ethnic violence that has marked its turbulent post-independence history, he says: ``I think we can do that. We have to teach unity and reconciliation.'' Starting with young children, Rwandans must learn to live together and not allow politicians to divide people because of ethnic differences, he says.